## Confessions of an Elementary Math Teacher

Embarrassingly traditional. Isn’t admitting your problem the first step to change? I confess: I was an embarrassingly traditional math teacher. And, frankly, I wasn’t enjoying the experience very much.

Actually, I make that confession all the time now. As an elementary mathematics specialist, I introduce myself to elementary school faculties as a born-again math teacher.

The change began in the mid-1990s as I worked on a Master’s in Elementary Education. My whole focus was on how children learn, or brain-based learning. I began to discover that research clearly shows that we know a lot about how children learn math, but rarely do we use that knowledge to inform our teaching.

Decades ago, education revolutionaries John Dewey and George Polya elucidated how bulldozing through a prescribed math program does not give children opportunities to think through concepts. I knew that to be true because of my own self-limiting math background and lack of confidence in my abililties when it came to math.

So, how could I change my teaching so that my students became confident, thinking mathematicians? Well, that journey took me many years – years of growing and becoming a more effective math teacher. It involved a different approach to problem-solving using flexible instructional strategies.

One of those instructional strategies in support of problem-solving was the use of math games – games that help children develop problem-solving behaviors and mathematical thinking habits without realizing they are doing so.

As I began to use games in the classroom, I realized it is not enough to just play a game. When playing math games, it is the teacher’s responsibility to extend math learning by conversing with students about their problem-solving strategies, both before and after they play the games. Such conversations build a laboratory of thought to help students remember new learning by connecting it to already-known concepts and understanding.

Math games support the development of higher-order thinking skills as well as supply test-taking and computational practice. Actually, I began to realize that math games had many benefits.

I was liberated from being a traditional math teacher! But the very best part – I developed a passion for teaching math that I had never had before! Give a math game a try!