How to Teach Mathematics to Fourth Grade Students

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In two days time, my students will have their first unit math test in geometry. I figured that this is a good time to reflect upon how I teach math in a fourth grade classroom.  I hope it helps.

Pre-assess each unit.  Before starting any learning experience, intentionally pre-assess each skill. Assess each student’s level of understanding and differentiate your instruction from your findings. I try to rearrange my math groups each day according to pre-assessment results.

Differentiate your instruction for each group of students that you teach. I cannot stress this enough. Your students must have a “just right” level of learning for each student, each day. This becomes a habit, in time.

Move it: I begin each year teaching my students the value of seamless transitions. Move your students often in the math class by rotating them to learning centers.

Teach each child each day. Never allow for a student to miss the opportunity to work with you. Structure your lessons so that you have meaningful contact with each student.

Allow the students to use calculators: “Calculators should be in or on students’ desks at all times from kindergarten through high school.”(Van de Walle, 2004)

Converse: Hone your conversation skills so that your students explain their learning in correct common mathematical terms.

Notice student improvement each day and compliment often. I do this regularly by allowing for the students to write and post their big learning for the day.

Assessments are for learning: Each test given to a student is an assessment for understanding. I routinely aid fourth graders in understanding the directions, checking work, and defining terms while they are taking a test.

Distribute all paper assessments to parents. Collect signed assessments and file in a student portfolio. This is a terrific public relations strategy. Evernote helps me immensely in conducting this task.

Post the essential learnings and enduring understanding for each math unit. I generally begin each math lesson reviewing the essential questions from the unit.

Recognize and meaningfully celebrate student thinking.

Name the steps in each algorithm that you teach. Allow for the students to finish your sentences for you. Let the students keep the conversations going.

Post lesson goals and aims, essential questions, and mathematical words to know.

Compete in World Maths Day Competition. This competition is extremely motivating.

Problem of the Week: Here is where I allow for my gifted and talented students to truly engage in higher-level mathematics. My former students reply how much they enjoyed watching me dance when they successfully completed a Problem of the Week.

Pi Day: My students have been known to memorize Pi up to 47 digits. We celebrate each March 14 at 1:59:26 PM. I let the students organize the festivities.

Start a Math Olympiad team: Math Olympiad is a fine program. I have been a PICO for years at my old school. There is time to still sign up. Math Olympiad is highly recommended.

Appreciate the Beauty: Study the math masters and share your love of mathematics with your students. This means so much more than posting a picture or quote from Einstein! Each math idea is an invention. Teach the students that mathematics is forever evolving.

Instructional Videos: If you are going to show them, keep them short and “laser-focused” on the goal at hand. Ratey the Math Cat is perhaps my all time favorite.

Allow for the kids to create presentations for teaching. Share the results on Vimeo, Edmodo,a class twitter account, or a class website.

Store the answers to word problems in an accessible folder and let the kids check their answers themselves. This frees you to more effectively engage.

Read: The Housemaid and the Professor, Fermat’s Last Theorem, and The Man of Numbers. These are amazing books.

Master the interactive whiteboard. It took me four years but I no longer call it the “The StupidBoard”

Teach all the units. Do not allow for any unit to go longer than necessary.

Collaborate with colleagues and ask them for help,regularly. Schedule the lessons so that you both are teaching the same lessons daily. This helps tremendously.

I have a few more ideas and practices, but perhaps for another time.

Have a great year of Mathematics instruction.


Van de Walle, J. A. (2004). Elementary and middle school mathematics: Teaching developmentally. Allyn & Bacon.

2 thoughts on “How to Teach Mathematics to Fourth Grade Students

  1. Hi,

    Could you elaborate a little more about how you are using Evernote to share your tests with parents? We aren’t allowed to send home our assessments because some parents use them to prep their other kids before they come up to our grade level. Now we have to protect them like they are top secret documents. I do believe parents need to see what they miss, so they can continue to help their children learn at home. Great tips and article!


  2. Tina,

    Thanks for the kind words.

    Sorry to hear that about your students’ assessments. How I would fix your situation is to assess the students through a balance approach of exit slips, formative assessments and in-class assessments. I then would document all of your findings.

    I really recommend The Housekeeper and the Professor. GREAT PD.

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