Experiential Teaching Strategies for Math Concepts

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  • 0:04 Experiential Learning
  • 1:25 During Instruction Time
  • 3:38 Free Time
  • 5:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Learning while doing helps students internalize what they are learning. Experiential methods for math instruction are methods that allow students to experience, or do, while they learn. This lesson covers ideas for how to incorporate experiential learning in your classroom.

Experiential Learning

What does it mean to learn using experiential methods? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, experiential means ''to provide experience with or direct observation of.'' So, experiential methods for math instruction must refer to teaching math to students by allowing them to actually experience the math.

That sounds good, but what does it mean to 'experience the math'? To experience is to do and see things, or to have things happen to you. Therefore, experiential methods for math instruction are methods that allow students 'to do', and 'to see' and 'to have things happen to them' in the realm of math; to make the students active participants in the process of learning math. By increasing physical activity level when learning a concept, students will internalize the information and be more supported in the concepts. The more they can 'do' while learning, the better.

When considering ways to incorporate experiential learning into your classroom, remember that students are not just learning during instruction time, but also during free time. Students learn concepts both in context and out of context, so don't forget to account for all of this when developing your mathematical environments.

Let's walk through some examples of experiential methods of math instruction in the four scenarios of learning in a classroom: in context during instruction time, out of context during instruction time, in context during free time, and out of context during free time.

During Instruction Time

Instruction time is intentional learning time in which the teacher attempts to pass information to the students. This could be through lectures, working on practice problems, or working in groups to solve problems.

In Context

Let's first look at in context instruction.

In context instruction, in this case, refers to the mathematical concepts being part of an intentional mathematical activity. It is learning about math while students are working on math. This may seem obvious; of course you learn about math when you have a lesson on math, what else could you learn about? It is possible to have cross-curriculum learning going on in each subject, but that is a topic for out of context learning.

The most common experiential tool for teaching math concepts is the use of manipulatives. These are any tools that a student can manipulate to assist them in visualizing the mathematical concepts at play in a lesson. Common manipulatives in early childhood education are counters for learning to count or sort in groups. Foam shapes are often used as manipulatives in geometry lessons. Clocks with spinning hands, movable angles, fraction blocks, and unit cubes are all examples of manipulatives that can be used to give students physical, active experience with mathematical concepts during instruction time.

Out of Context

Now, let's look at out of context learning.

Earlier, it was mentioned that it is possible to learn topics that are not in context with the lesson. An example of learning out of context would be working on reading comprehension while completing a math lesson on word problems. The reading aspect is a secondary subject that can be reinforced during math instruction. This is true in reverse as well. As before, when a teacher intentionally passes information to students, it is considered instruction time; however, if mathematical concepts are being learned or reinforced during the instruction of other subjects, then the math is being taught out of context.

An example of an experiential method to reinforce mathematical concepts out of context would be to ask students to use shaped stamps to make (or match) a picture during art class. The lesson focus is art and the product of the lesson is an art sample, but the use of shapes reinforces mathematical concepts. The act of having to choose shapes and use the stamps to create the picture makes the whole activity experiential.

Free Time

Recess and lunch times are times when students' brains are still working and ripe for absorbing information. Just because they are playing does not mean students are not paying attention and learning. In fact, one might hypothesize that they are paying more attention to what they are doing because it is a personally chosen activity during those times when they are free to make their own choices. By offering games that support mathematical foundations, teachers can give students more experiential exposure to mathematical concepts outside of formal instruction time.

In Context

Let's first look at in context free time.

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