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Meeting Middle School Math Standards

Meeting middle school math standards may seem like an overwhelming task; however, it can be simplified by following a few basic strategies:

  1. Know and be aware of the unique needs of middle school students.
  2. Implement best practices instructional strategies in middle grades math lessons.
  3. Know the NCTM Middle School Math Standards and incorporate them into your lessons.
Unique Needs of Middle School Students
The middle grade years are a dynamic time for students. Middle school students experience a myriad of changes both socially and academically. Many middle school teachers find success by implementing a "learner-centered environment" where they focus on the needs, preferences, and interests of learners, and where students are actively engaged in the learning process.

Along with that instructional approach, the following guidelines for effective middle grades instruction take into consideration the unique needs, interests, and behaviors of middle school students:
  • Create a safe environment where students feel comfortable.
  • Establish clear procedures and routines.
  • Provide both challenge and support.
  • Use carefully assigned and well-managed cooperative groups.
  • Make frequent real-life connections.
  • Use an integrated curriculum.
  • Provide engaging educational experiences that are relevant to students.
  • Present activities where students produce and share products.
These guidelines can also assist teachers in meeting middle school math standards. The classroom environment and resulting student behavior will be conducive to the type of cooperative, inquiry-based and project-based instruction that is well-suited to meeting these standards.

By providing real-life connections, integrated lessons, and engaging, relevant experiences, middle grades students will be more interested and motivated to tackle the increasingly challenging material.

Middle grades math lessons should focus on activities in which students produce and share products. This type of activity is beneficial because it has been shown that students retain more when they "Say and Do."

Best Practices Instructional Strategies for Middle Grades Math Lessons
The process of addressing middle school math standards can be eased by implementing best practices instructional techniques and strategies for the middle grades. Effective math lessons that implement these best practices have the following characteristics:
  • Students' engagement is at a high level
  • Tasks are built on students' prior knowledge
  • Scaffolding takes place, making connections to concepts, procedures, and understanding
  • High-level performance is modeled
  • Students are expected to explain thinking and meaning
  • Students self-monitor their progress
  • Appropriate amount of time is devoted to tasks
Keep these best practices in mind as you plan your lessons: they will help you address middle school math standards and will help your students take on the greater challenges that this content presents.

NCTM Middle School Math Standards
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics middle grades math standards can be accessed via their Web site at: http://standards.nctm.org/document/chapter6/index.htm.

NCTM Middle School Math Content Strands
The NCTM standards list expectations for middle school math content within the following ten strands:
  1. Number and Operations
  2. Algebra
  3. Geometry
  4. Measurement
  5. Data Analysis and Probability
  6. Problem Solving
  7. Reasoning and Proof
  8. Communication
  9. Connections
  10. Representation

The more teachers are aware of these math standards for middle school, the more they can incorporate elements of these standards into their lessons.

Integrating Strands
It is helpful for teachers to look for common themes and interconnected concepts among the standards. For example, noticing and making connections between algebra and geometry standards is a worthwhile pursuit. It is possible to address multiple standards in the same lesson this way.

The National Middle School Association supports this practice, encouraging educators to expand their use of integrated curriculum formats. Students need to examine concepts and themes to see how they "fit" together. When teachers connect curriculum, the content is more relevant for the students and teachers can address multiple standards in the same lesson.

Changes in Math in the Middle Grades
When it comes to meeting middle grades math standards, in addition to the previous strategies, teachers also need to be aware of some significant changes that occur in math content in the middle grades.

If teachers effectively address these changes, they can ensure that their instruction will help students master the content within the middle school math standards.
  • Numbers and Operations Change
    Students in the middle grades move from working with whole numbers and primarily addition and subtraction activities in the elementary grades, to working with rational numbers and integers, and primarily multiplication and division activities.

  • Proportional Reasoning Expands
    Students in the middle grades move beyond simple problem solving with ratios, proportions, and percentages, to broader, more complex concepts of proportional relationships, including functions and linear relationships. Middle grades students need to be able to reason proportionally and apply this reasoning to a variety of situations.

  • Emphasis on Algebra Increases
    Middle grades students are expected to master algebra skills and concepts and to incorporate algebraic thinking throughout their lessons. Middle school math standards expect that students have the ability to represent and analyze relationships symbolically, and, as with proportional reasoning, can apply algebraic thinking to a variety of situations.
Developing Skills
Along with the strategies and suggestions discussed above, teachers can help their students meet middle school math standards by helping them develop the following skills:
  • Foster Students' Reasoning Abilities
    The reasoning abilities of middle grades students should be fostered at all times. Middle grades math teachers can help improve their students' reasoning abilities and address middle school math standards by conducting lessons that provide them ample opportunity to question, examine, conjecture, and experiment. Additionally, teachers should expect their students to explain their thinking and reasoning throughout every math activity. Middle school math teachers should try to incorporate the use of conjectures and proving or disproving these conjectures in almost every lesson.

  • Expand Students' Abilities to Represent Mathematical Information
    Middle grades students need many opportunities to explore various ways to represent mathematical information. Students should be comfortable using symbolic (formulas, equations, expressions), tabular, and graphical representations. Middle grades students should also be able to use coordinate graphs to represent and to analyze a variety of relationships. They should gain experience using variables to represent numerical relationships and to show the interdependence of quantities. As with conjectures, try to incorporate the use of symbolic and graphical representations in as many lessons as possible.

  • Encourage Students to Look for Patterns
    Middle grades students need to be adept at identifying, describing, extending, and representing patterns. They should be exposed to a wide variety of patterns. The types of patterns that students are exposed to in the middle grades needs to increase in complexity and variety. Students should start to spend more time exploring, analyzing, and representing functions and linear and non-linear relations.
This article was contributed by Heidi Janzen, a former classroom teacher and mathematics specialist. She now works as an educational consultant in the areas of professional development, curriculum, standards, and assessment.

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