What you need to know about school math instruction programs

At a glance

  • Many schools use a specific program for math instruction.

  • Math curriculums don’t all teach math the same way.

  • Computer programs can help make math instruction more personalized.

Math can be a source of anxiety for both kids and parents. There are many different types of math programs, or curriculums. And the one your child’s school uses may look nothing like the math you remember from school.

Learning about the various programs can make it easier to help your child. Here’s what you need to know.

Basics about math instruction

Math programs organize math concepts so that students see how the concepts connect to and build on each other. Each year builds on skills learned the year before, usually according to state standards.

Most schools use print-based programs that use textbooks and workbooks. But many of these programs also have a hands-on component that teachers can use. It includes things like patterns, blocks, or cubes to help kids connect concepts to the real world.

On top of their regular print-based programs, some schools use computer-based programs. These reinforce what kids are learning in the classroom.

Common math programs

Many math programs are used in the United States. Here are some common ones:

  • Saxon Math teaches concepts in small bites. It uses a “spiral” approach to teaching. That means as kids learn new concepts, they keep reviewing old concepts. Saxon is a good program for kids who need lots of review and practice. But it uses many word problems that don’t make real-world connections, so it can be hard for kids who need to understand math in the real world.

  • Singapore Math (Math in Focus) teaches fewer concepts, but in depth. It uses a “” approach. That means once kids have mastered a skill, the next concept builds on it. Kids learn each idea three ways: doing it hands-on, making a picture or graph, and using formulas.

  • Everyday Mathematics folds math into all subjects. It has lots of problem-solving built into activities and games and uses a real-world approach. A teacher teaches each concept, but kids do more work in small groups. It’s easily adapted to different needs because small group work allows different groups to work on different skills.

  • EnVision is a good program for kids who learn by doing and seeing. Each concept is taught visually. Kids work together to come up with unique ways to solve problems. There’s a bigger focus on mental math, so it can be hard for kids who have trouble recalling or learning math facts.

  • Go Math! is aligned with the Common Core, so the lessons for each grade are designed to meet the grade-level standards. It has a response to intervention factor that makes it easy to adapt for kids who are struggling. The focus on math vocabulary, solving through models, and real-world problem-solving presents math in new ways. That can make it harder for parents to help with homework and hard for kids who transfer from different schools.

  • Connected Math is a program used in middle schools. It teaches concepts, skills, procedures, and ways of thinking and reasoning in a number of math subject areas. These include geometry, algebra, and statistics. The program uses real-life problems, but it can be harder for some students because of its language-based curriculum.

Computer-assisted and online instruction

Your child’s school may use a form of computer-aided instruction (CAI) along with the regular math program. These digital programs give kids extra practice in the skills and concepts they’ve learned in class. Students can go at their own pace, taking online quizzes and doing practice problems.

CAI programs can help gear the learning toward each child’s needs because the programs take stock of what kids know, then give them exercises for their level. That means kids can practice skills and also learn new ones.

Two common CAI programs:

  • Core Math Tools is for algebra, geometry, statistics, and probability. The tools can be used to add on to any high school math program. They’re also compatible with the State Standards.

  • Classworks uses material from different programs and combines them to build units for each student. It allows kids to work at their own pace, present ideas in many different ways, and keep track of progress.

There are also new math programs coming out that are all digital. Everything happens online. That includes lesson planning and instruction for teachers and assignments and quizzes for students. One benefit is that students get immediate feedback on their work. But some kids have a hard time learning online. And students who don’t have access to a computer at home may feel at a disadvantage.

Math programs don’t all teach concepts the same way. And kids don’t all learn the same way. A good math program will teach different kinds of learners. Don’t hesitate to ask questions about your school’s math instruction or to talk to your child’s teacher.

Key takeaways

  • “Spiral” math instruction reviews old concepts while teaching new ones.

  • “Scaffolding” math instruction makes sure kids know a concept, then teaches new skills to build on it.

  • Your child may learn best through different types of math instruction.


Explore related topics

Read next