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Teaching Essential Mathematics Grades K-8: Increasing Engagement and Building Understanding of Key Concepts

Timothy J. McNamara
Corwin Press
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Janet Wansick
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This book is a supplementary resource with lots of hands-on and visual learning experiences for all, with plenty of extension possibilities into areas such as more abstract concepts for the more inquisitive students and graphing calculator applications for every student. There also will be episodes of physical movement and of cooperative learning- all designed to squeeze more discovery and more connections between topics than a textbook is equipped to offer. The name of the game here is more engagement for more students!

The preceding paragraph is taken from the introduction and essentially conveys the authors intent for this book. I believe the author has successfully created a resource book for teachers that accomplishes the goal of “more discovery and more connections between topics” for mathematics classrooms which will result in more student engagement.

This book is intended as a supplement for traditional textbooks. It will be a valuable resource to new teachers looking for appropriate lessons tied to curriculum standards, to veteran teachers looking for new ideas for content specific activities, and to college instructors of pre-service and in-service teachers.

This book is presented in a format consistent with the Principles and Standards for School Mathematics from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. In fact, each of the five chapters mirrors NCTM’s five content standards. Within each chapter are activities that are applicable to various grade levels from kindergarten through eight grade. Moreover, the author provides a chart so that the reader can easily distinguish the appropriate grade level for each activity. The book contains activities, visual models, and calculator applications; each of which could be used alone or in conjunction with other activities. The organization of this book makes it easy to use for the reader who wants to find activities related to one specific content standard or for the reader who wants an overview of activities for all of the standards.

Integrated throughout the book are the “whys” of teaching mathematics in this manner. These bits of wisdom were valuable in making the reader understand that this type of engaging discovery of mathematics is necessary for student learning. As the author states, “…it is in everyone’s best long-term interest that less time be spent on how and more time be spent on why math is the way it is.”

I agree with the author on this and I think readers of the book will be able to get a glimpse of the benefit of the “whys” over the “hows”; however, I wish a little more time had been devoted to making a case for this style of teaching. The author does point out that many teachers have discussed the issue of time with regard to teaching in this manner and provides three significant benefits of this more active, more engaging type of learning environment. These three benefits could have been expanded upon to provide a richer support for the purpose of the activities in the book.

While some of the activities, particularly the paper folding, may get a little difficult to follow with only a quick read-through, the author does a good job of giving detailed descriptions of not only the activity, but the mathematical content and language associated with the activity. Teachers should enjoy reading and using these activities. Hopefully, many teachers will find that some of the activities cause them to think differently about the way they have been teaching mathematics to their students.

Janet D. Wansick ( ) is an assistant professor of mathematics at East Central University in Ada, OK. She began her teaching career in the middle school classroom teaching 7th and 8th grade mathematics before moving to the high school and eventually to the college level. She works with numerous classroom teachers at all levels and conducts mathematics partnership workshops. Her research areas of interest include mathematics education, curriculum and pedagogy, and mathematical assessment.

About the Author
1. Number and Operations
A Case for "Why?"
Calculator Application: Multiplying Fractions
Double Take
Make It With an Abacus
2. Algebra
Catch the Beat
Growing Patterns
Divide and Conquer
Raising the Stakes
3. Geometry
Make Figures "Happen"
Hands-On Shapes
Guess My Pattern
Crazy Quilts
Fold It Right There!
4. Measurement
How So?
Calculator Application: Finding the Measures of the Two Acute Angles of a Right Triangle
I Scream . . . You Scream . . .
How They Stack Up
Calculator Application: Surface Area of a Rectangular Solid
5. Data Analysis and Probability
Even the Odds
Calculator Application: Determining the Sum of Two Randomly Selected Numbers as Odd or Even
Read More About It!
Living Graphs
Fire and Ice
Games of Chance
Appendix: Worksheet Blackline Masters