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Adult Learner > Strategies > Explicit Instruction: Math Strategies

Explicit Instruction: Math Strategies


Direct instruction in math strategies may support some adult learners once conceptual understanding is in place. Discussing strategies for solving math problems provides learners with the tools they need to think about problems from different angles, and to flexibly apply these tools during problem solving. To best select strategies, learners need to see beyond the surface structure of the problem to the underlying patterns, in order to match them with the appropriate strategies and procedures to arrive at a solution. This requires a deeper conceptual understanding, which is best developed when learners engage in problem solving and productive failure before direct instruction. Further, using a variety of math strategies to tackle relevant real-world problems makes the concepts meaningful by helping learners make connections to their own lives.

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Adults benefit from learning math in a real-world context, making it relevant to their daily lives. Real-world math can be messy, however, and learners may get frustrated or experience math anxiety when there is not an obvious rule for how to solve the problem. As such, introducing adults to a repertoire of strategies to use when they encounter messy real-world problems helps promote a productive disposition while allowing them to flexibly practice using their strategies. Allowing learners the space to brainstorm strategies, discuss their thinking, and propose alternatives with others promotes learning both inside and outside the classroom.

When considering a direct instruction approach for math strategies, it is important to note that it can lead to rote learning which does not support Metacognition, Reasoning, or Problem Solving - essential to building a solid foundation in math. Conceptual understanding should be established prior to direct instruction in math strategies. Though exposure to a variety of strategies is possible when taught directly, it is important that learners put the strategies to use right away to promote Reasoning.

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