What is a “Rigorous” Mathematics Program? Highlights of Erma Anderson’s Recent Visit to TAISM

Erma Anderson, a researcher and international consultant, has been visiting TAISM for over a decade to share with our community the latest research and best practices in Mathematics.

This past week, Erma spent time working with teams of teachers, administrators, and our Elementary and Early Childhood parents, discussing how we can continue to help our students become even stronger mathematicians.

With Erma’s experience consulting in over 150 international schools, spending over 50 years focused on education, she was the perfect guide for parents who are interested to understand how we teach math at TAISM, and how they can support at home.

What is the role of a parent when it comes to math?

Math, at its core, is about solving problems.  Parents should help young people become problem solvers. In order to help students become thoughtful problem solvers, parents can help them look for math all around them, provide them with engaging mathematical phenomena, help them look for patterns, and to make meaning from what they see.

What is a “rigorous” mathematics program?

TAISM provides a rigorous mathematics program. In math, Rigor is defined as conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, and problem solving. It’s a three legged stool: educators want students to know why the math works, so they can then understand how the math works, and apply it to where the math works.


Did math change in the last few decades?

As Erma said, “This is the same math my grandmother taught in a one-room schoolhouse in the early 1900’s: math never changes.” Still, some things do change. Many of us grew up memorizing procedures first. Above all, accuracy and efficiency were emphasized, even if we did not yet understand why these procedures worked.

At the TAISM Elementary School Math Night, Erma shared various research articles that explain how starting with conceptual understanding leads to stronger procedural fluency, which allows students to become more flexible problem solvers.

Should parents show their own children the ways in which they learned mathematics growing up?

Some parents wondered whether it was helpful or harmful to show their own children the ways they were taught procedures or methods growing up. Erma encouraged parents to ask their child to show their thinking first, before explaining their own thinking, with the intent being to connect the two strategies together, not see one as better than the other. Emphasize understanding over procedure, perhaps asking, “How do these two methods connect? How are they similar? How are they different?”  These mathematical conversations take time, but carry a lot of weight in deepening students' understanding.

These conversations are a great way to support children at home.  The ability for a child to see that two or three different approaches to a problem can all have the same answer is empowering and adds to their "toolbox" of strategies to approach a problem.

What if the parent doesn’t like math?

Math is everywhere: at the store, online shopping, in the kitchen, in countless moments of everyday life.

When parents start to talk about math in natural conversations, they help children see beyond, to see math as more than a classroom activity. Our response to challenging problems is also important.

Erma explained that even if parents did not like math as a child or if they struggle with a problem when helping their children, it is important to stay positive, allowing children to develop a growth mindset around mathematics. Problems should be challenging, she stated, in fact, “if you know the answer to a problem, then it is not a problem.”

As parents, you can encourage your children to embrace problems and think flexibly while solving them, and to look at mistakes along the way as opportunities to grow.

How can parents support students in math?

At our parent meetings, Erma suggested questions to ask students at home:

  1. Why did your method work?

  2. Can you show your thinking in a different way? Maybe with a model?

In order to support procedural fluency, Erma recommends games!

EC - Grade 2:  Our very youngest students should be moving objects on a number line and counting spaces on boards like “Snakes and Ladders”. Games with dice or dominoes where students need to subitize, identify the number of items in a set by quickly looking at them and not counting them one by one, are ideal as these will strengthen future work with all four operations. As children get a bit older, games where they add and subtract within 100 can help to build fluency.

Grades 3-5 (and up!):  Some games involve the four operations of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing building math fluency (flexibility, accuracy and efficiency). She also recommended puzzles and building activities that might build spatial awareness strengthening areas like Geometry.

What resources are available to parents who are looking to support their child’s math at home?

A great site that provides daily reading and math problems for young children is Bedtime Math.

Also, the TAISM library has some excellent math storybooks. Maybe consider checking one out to read together.

We want to thank all the parents who were able to join us for these sessions with Erma and we look forward to continuing to learn together to develop our TAISM mathematicians!