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Boosting long-term student success with independent practice in math

While the world around us seems to change by the nanosecond, some things have remained stubbornly consistent. Just as they have in years past, many students—despite their teachers’ best efforts—still find it difficult to get excited about their math lessons.

Find out what we’re doing at Paper™ to help provide students with fun and engaging opportunities for independent practice in math so they gain confidence for life.

The importance of building mathematics skills and problem-solving abilities

It’s a common question for frustrated students in math classes far and wide: “When will I ever use this?”

But when it comes to career and college readiness, math skills are more vital today than ever. In the future economy that today’s students will inherit, STEM fields are likely to play a pivotal role. As the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics have confirmed in their position paper on STEM education, success in STEM proceeds from a strong foundation in math.

In particular, many education leaders point to algebra I as a crucial course for supporting positive long-term student outcomes. According to data about algebra I from the U.S. Department of Education, taking the course earlier in a student’s academic journey was correlated with higher rates of college enrollment.

One thing is clear: Building a strong foundation in math early on can help set students up for success in rewarding careers—in STEM and beyond.

Why do some students struggle to understand math concepts and practice problem-solving strategies?

Despite math’s immense importance, many students—from grade school to high school—find it difficult to tap into algebraic thinking, understand place values, simplify fractions, and much more. In fact, in a survey conducted by Paper, more than a quarter of the students we spoke to expressed low confidence in math. Why is that?

A pie chart illustrates that more than 25% of the students Paper spoke to said they were "not so confident" or "not at all confident" in math, indicating the need for more engaging independent practice in math.

The underlying causes that may lead individual students to struggle with math are as varied and diverse as learners themselves. However, at its core, part of the answer to this question is strikingly simple: Some students think math is hard because it is hard, just like any subject they’ll study in depth.

Take fractions for example. Writing in The Washington Post, mathematics professor Dr. Jordan Ellenberg explores the importance of leveling with learners that math is difficult. In the article, he describes the monumental leap students have to make to incorporate fractions into their understanding of numerical value.

“A fraction is a totally different thing, not so much a number as an amount,” writes Ellenberg. “And yet you are supposed to be able to add and subtract them, just as you can ‘regular numbers.’”

There’s no single magic solution—no perfect exercise, exceptional activity, or unfailing method of teaching support—that will work 100% of the time for every student. That’s why ongoing practice, in a fun, pressure-free environment, can make all the difference.

Ensuring extra independent practice is fun and rewarding: Math games

Game elements can help drive student engagement by making the leap from group instruction to independent work fun and seamless. In particular, well-executed math games provide an exciting complement to the traditional worksheets students might tackle on their own or in small-group math stations.

During guided math exercises, students may benefit from game elements that:

  • Frame tasks as challenges and help learners monitor their progress.
  • Reward students for solving problems and undertaking extra practice.
  • Employ fun narratives, storylines, and characters to make the experience come alive.
  • Provide an opportunity for students to engage in self-paced exploration and repetitive guided practice.

Paper Missions: Building problem-solving abilities—one adventure at a time

Driven by the promise of game-based learning principles, Paper’s Educational Support System now provides students with unlimited access to Paper Missions. These Missions are story-based problems that help students develop subject-specific skills in math.

With fun and creative challenges, compelling characters, and positive reinforcement, Paper Missions backs up in-class instruction by giving learners a low-stakes opportunity to explore math topics at their own pace. 

Students can return to the platform for extra practice as often as they’d like and explore topics that suit their self-selected skill level, including:

  • Counting
  • Operations
  • Pre-algebra
  • Algebra I
  • Geometry
  • Algebra II
  • Trigonometry

Independent practice in math starts with the Paper Missions math level selection menu, depicted here.

In addition, Paper is proud to provide a further layer of customized support for our partners in Mississippi. As they prepare for statewide testing, students from participating districts in the Magnolia State will be able to log in to Paper Missions for practice with problems aligned to state standards.

Ready to find out how Paper Missions can help students in your district gain confidence in their math skills through self-paced, independent practice in a fun environment? Schedule a demo with our team today.

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