Math is the universal language. It is the only language shared by all humans. Stop and think about that for a minute. The principles and foundations of math are the same everywhere in the world! Adding objects, or adding the cost of items at the store, everyone on the planet uses the same mathematical process. The distance from earth to the sun, Einstein's theory of relativity E = mc 2, and the number 2 is the same everywhere on this planet. It is my belief that this language that connects all humans and this universe, is being short changed in our classrooms with faulty vocabulary and short cuts. I believe one of the biggest problems, if not THE biggest problem keeping kids from understanding math is the fact that students don’t understand what the question is asking of them because of vocabulary used in the question. The shortcuts or vocabulary we use to help students understand math actually could be detrimental to their understanding. Because educators are not using the correct universal terminology there is not universal or standardized understanding.

I recall the first time I felt the frustration of this issue as a student in the 4th grade. My teacher signed me up to be tested for the advanced program in math and science. I remember walking into the testing room and feeling very confident. There was no doubt I was going to be in the advanced classes, especially in math. But, when I opened the test booklet, there were no math problems written in there, it was a bunch of words. This wasn’t any kind of math I had ever seen or done before. I remember not understanding what the questions were asking of me. Panic set in, which led to all confidence being lost and me not making a score high enough to be considered, “advanced”. Not only was my teacher disappointed, but she was also puzzled. “How could this student who makes straight A’s in math have scored so low on the test?” Unfortunately, this scenario was repeated over and over for the next 8 years, I would make A’s in math, then score average or below on standardized tests. I wasn’t fully aware of what my problem was until I became a math teacher. I made some key observations: 1. My students didn’t understand the notes I was giving them because of the words I was using. 2. The textbook was not helpful, because once again, they didn’t fully understand the vocabulary being used. 3. When I reviewed missed questions from tests, it became clear they knew the concepts, but not what the question was asking.

Learning the vocabulary in math class is as imperative as learning the steps needed to solve math problem. At the beginning of a unit students may make a word wall, or do a crossword puzzle with their new vocabulary words. There are many strategies to introduce new vocabulary words, but no matter how effective the strategy is, after the introduction all the students will gain is familiarity of the words. The words must be used in conversation and in demonstration to promote conceptual understanding. Students should be able to use correct vocabulary (reciprocal, distributive property, set equal to zero, product, etc.) when asked to explain what steps they took to solve a math problem. Effective mathematics problem solving often depends on the understanding of key mathematical terms. This holds true in solving word problems and performance-based tasks, which can be difficult even for students who are proficient with mathematical operations.

Today’s classrooms are encouraged to have student led discourse. If a student is able to understand an idea well enough to convey it to others, it helps them to internalize it and gain a deeper and longer lasting understanding of the subject matter. We must make sure during the discourse the correct terminology is being used. Subject conversations are useless if the words being used are unreliable.

As math teachers go through their school and training, they are bombarded with books on strategies and best practices. And after becoming a teacher, they are constantly trying to find ways to be better. One of the first and most important lessons teachers learn is the fact that students learn in different ways. Teachers do their best to keep up with the best practices in math education and regularly incorporating them into their instruction. Math teachers know there may be multiple ways to solve problems and uses those alternate strategies to help students grasp concepts. And teachers are forevermore trying to create lesson plans to fully engage students in the learning process. But where is the important lesson teaching teachers how critical it is to know, understand, use and teach math vocabulary? Through all my education, training and observing, I can’t remember anyone instructing me as to how important vocabulary is when teaching math.

When students can talk the talk and walk the walk in math, starting in kindergarten, we will see students learning with a deeper understanding, not only for higher test scores, but according to a new study from the Cleveland Fed. “Students who advance further in high school math have higher wages and are less likely to be unemployed”. The study shows that advancing past Algebra II correlates strongly with finishing high school, graduating from college, and thriving in the workforce. And this is why we are all teachers anyway, right?

I recall the first time I felt the frustration of this issue as a student in the 4th grade. My teacher signed me up to be tested for the advanced program in math and science. I remember walking into the testing room and feeling very confident. There was no doubt I was going to be in the advanced classes, especially in math. But, when I opened the test booklet, there were no math problems written in there, it was a bunch of words. This wasn’t any kind of math I had ever seen or done before. I remember not understanding what the questions were asking of me. Panic set in, which led to all confidence being lost and me not making a score high enough to be considered, “advanced”. Not only was my teacher disappointed, but she was also puzzled. “How could this student who makes straight A’s in math have scored so low on the test?” Unfortunately, this scenario was repeated over and over for the next 8 years, I would make A’s in math, then score average or below on standardized tests. I wasn’t fully aware of what my problem was until I became a math teacher. I made some key observations: 1. My students didn’t understand the notes I was giving them because of the words I was using. 2. The textbook was not helpful, because once again, they didn’t fully understand the vocabulary being used. 3. When I reviewed missed questions from tests, it became clear they knew the concepts, but not what the question was asking.

Learning the vocabulary in math class is as imperative as learning the steps needed to solve math problem. At the beginning of a unit students may make a word wall, or do a crossword puzzle with their new vocabulary words. There are many strategies to introduce new vocabulary words, but no matter how effective the strategy is, after the introduction all the students will gain is familiarity of the words. The words must be used in conversation and in demonstration to promote conceptual understanding. Students should be able to use correct vocabulary (reciprocal, distributive property, set equal to zero, product, etc.) when asked to explain what steps they took to solve a math problem. Effective mathematics problem solving often depends on the understanding of key mathematical terms. This holds true in solving word problems and performance-based tasks, which can be difficult even for students who are proficient with mathematical operations.

Today’s classrooms are encouraged to have student led discourse. If a student is able to understand an idea well enough to convey it to others, it helps them to internalize it and gain a deeper and longer lasting understanding of the subject matter. We must make sure during the discourse the correct terminology is being used. Subject conversations are useless if the words being used are unreliable.

As math teachers go through their school and training, they are bombarded with books on strategies and best practices. And after becoming a teacher, they are constantly trying to find ways to be better. One of the first and most important lessons teachers learn is the fact that students learn in different ways. Teachers do their best to keep up with the best practices in math education and regularly incorporating them into their instruction. Math teachers know there may be multiple ways to solve problems and uses those alternate strategies to help students grasp concepts. And teachers are forevermore trying to create lesson plans to fully engage students in the learning process. But where is the important lesson teaching teachers how critical it is to know, understand, use and teach math vocabulary? Through all my education, training and observing, I can’t remember anyone instructing me as to how important vocabulary is when teaching math.

When students can talk the talk and walk the walk in math, starting in kindergarten, we will see students learning with a deeper understanding, not only for higher test scores, but according to a new study from the Cleveland Fed. “Students who advance further in high school math have higher wages and are less likely to be unemployed”. The study shows that advancing past Algebra II correlates strongly with finishing high school, graduating from college, and thriving in the workforce. And this is why we are all teachers anyway, right?