The Math Intervention Strategy that Lowers Prep AND Increases Understanding

Sometimes, planning fewer *new* activities is the math intervention strategy that will make the difference for your students. Any time you can spend less time planning while also maintaining engagement and increasing student understanding, it should be considered a win!

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When your students are developing their understanding of a new math topic they need to experience repeated exposures so that they can test and explore their new idea from a variety of angles. When our students have the opportunity to build a web of understanding around a topic their understanding of the topic is strengthened.

Take a simple concept like the number five for example.

  • A student who is able to count to 5 has a certain low-level understanding of this concept.
  • A student who has an experience in which they count 5 apples has a greater understanding of the number 5.
  • A student who counts 5 apples on Monday, spends $5 at the store on Tuesday, counts the number of kids at the small group table (conveniently 5!) on Wednesday, counts out groups of 5 candies on Thursday and plays physical games with the number 5 (jump 5 times, spin 5 times, count to 5 as you stand on one foot) on Friday will have a MUCH deeper understanding of the number 5!

This math intervention strategy advocates for you to plan less so that your students can experience the math concepts you are addressing more deeply.

In this math intervention strategy, you are going to repeat the *same* lesson with your students on multiple occasions while still maintaining engagement.

Math Intervention Strategy #1: Change the Material

At the most simple level, you can repeat an activity while changing nothing but the hands-on material your students are using.

Consider the topic of adding using a count all strategy. Yesterday you used centimeter cubes? Today try mini erasers! Your students are learning to apply their understanding around the concept of addition rather than learning a procedure around “how to use centimeter cubes to solve problems with a + sign”.

In my Partners of Ten math intervention unit, we spend 5 days exploring the partners of ten. While each day of the unit is very simple in terms of what the students are asked to do (find partners that create ten) the material is constantly changing which allows students to develop a deeper understanding of the concept.

  1. Day 1: Students use Red and Yellow Disks on a Ten Frame
  2. Day 2: Students still use Red and Yellow Disks but Eliminate the Ten Frame
  3. Day 3: Students use their 10 fingers to explore the partners of ten
  4. Day 4: Students explore partners of ten by sliding beads on a rekenrek
  5. Day 5: Students use picture cards to solve an open-ended math task

When using this strategy, it’s important to note that all math manipulatives are not created equally!

Be strategic in terms of the order you choose to use math manipulatives. For example, in the above sequence, red and yellow disks were used on a ten frame before they were used in isolation. Also, keep in mind the sequence of groupable, pre-grouped proportional and pre-grouped non-proportional models.

Math Intervention Strategy #2: Add or Change the Context

Another strategy to re-use a lesson while maintaining engagement includes adding a story context or changing the story context.

In my Comparison to 1,000 unit students begin by using base ten blocks to build and compare 3-digit numbers. In the following lesson, students are doing the exact same thing! The only difference? This time they are using a new material (place value disks) and are comparing 3-digit numbers in a scenario rather than in isolation.

Comparison Word Problem Cards

By changing the material we are ensuring that our students are not learning a procedure to apply with a particular manipulative- they are truly thinking and applying understanding.

By adding in a story context your students will have the opportunity to deepen their understanding of the concept. Perhaps the idea of comparing 588 and 104 is very abstract to your students. Adding in a context about selling 588 smoothies on a hot day and only 104 on a cooler winter day will add to your students’ understanding of the topic.

When introducing arrays to 3rd grade students, changing the context is the key to helping students understand this model.

On day 1 of this unit students are introduced to the vocabulary words rows and columns. In the subsequent lessons students explore a different context featuring rows and columns each day.

Baked goods arranged into boxes lend the backdrop to an array exploration on day 2, students lined up in rows for their class picture provide a day 3 context and on day 4 students plan a gallery wall with equal numbers of paintings in rows and columns.

Very similar teaching techniques and lesson format is used each day but, as students explore the variety of contexts their understanding deepens!

Related Math Intervention Resources

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