No one would attempt to climb Mount Everest in a day.

But when we teach math, we often expect something similar from students. We expect them to learn a complex, multi-step process in one lesson, in one hour. We expect them to go from no awareness of the process, to awareness to competence to mastery. And we don’t take account of the fact that many math process requires a long ladder of thought steps. In edu-jargon, this process of taking all of the little steps into account — and teaching each step individually — is called “scaffolding.”

I have long found “scaffolding” important in working with students who struggle with math in general and algebra in particular.

As a tutor, I’ve found that the main reason students struggle with math is that they don’t realize that they are missing “thought-steps” that are key to a mathematical process. When I wrote the Algebra Survival Guide, I kept this idea in mind. And so I broke complex tasks down into many, minute steps. For example, I teach the process of factoring trinomials as requiring eight separate steps, each of which can be taught, learned, and assessed individually. (See Algebra Survival Guide, pp. 154-163).

Now, it appears, a tutor in Canada has found the same to be true for elementary level math. To help students master the mini-steps that make up the bigger processes, John Mighton has developed a program called Jump Math. And this program appears to help students and teachers in big ways, breaking down the notion that some students are just good at math, while others just aren’t. Jump Math is helping to equalize the playing field in the realm of math education, opening the doors of learning to all.

I just read an interesting article on this in a New York Times opinion piece, which you can find here. You can also learn more about Jump Math at this site. I think that this represents a positive new development, and it is worth exploring.

If any of you are already using Jump Math and would like to comment on it, feel free to comment on this blog.

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Hey Josh,

Love your site, love finding out new ways to teach concepts, like using the outers divided by the inners for the division one, thanks for that one, and the ‘boost’ for common factors. I’m hungry to find new metaphors to teach math! Keeps it fresh for me to keep streamlining, and paring it down, yet also diversiyng , and is rewarding to find the one analogy that makes the lightbulb go off over a student’s head. Somewhere else someone mentioned using stairway steps to illustrate combining negative and positive numbers (better than lending/taking back money) Someone I work with says she has a lot of success with using a vertical number line, like a thermometer. Keep up the good work, and I would be happy to send on math sites or articles as I find them too, (like the Jump one you found at NYT)

Cheers, cc