In order to understand the mathematical relationships
occurring in a problem or equation, students must understand the
broad concepts involved. Some math relationships are spatial,
they involve physical objects and/or physical space (e.g., the
relationship between an object’s weight and its size or
mass). Other math relationships are sequential, the order in which
steps occur or elements act on each other is most important (e.g.,
the relationship between the equations ‘10x+4=24’
To work effectively with math relationships,
students must have a flexible approach to each problem, knowing
that quantities may be represented in a variety of ways. For example,
understanding the concept of place value (e.g., that 30 is the
same as 3 tens) enables students to more easily deal with problems
concerning money, just as understanding the concept of units and
subdivisions (or parts and wholes) helps students divide a single
candy bar into equal parts to share.
Finally, students must be able to store and retrieve
concepts from long term memory, and to hold several symbols and
concepts in their minds. For example, a problem requiring plotting
information on a graph may involve multiple concepts, including
collecting and organizing information, setting up ratios, finding
averages, using the coordinate system, etc.
Here are some strategies to help develop and
strengthen students’ understanding of relationships in math.
- Provide plenty of hands-on practice with concepts
that are typically confused, such as weight and mass, capacity
and volume, area and perimeter, etc.
- Use manipulables to help students explore
mathematical relationships. For example, Connecting People (available
from the Cuisenaire Company), are small, connectable figurines
of different colors, sexes, and sizes. Activities can be built
around the Connecting People figurines in which students build
patterns, use math concepts in stories, organize and classify,
use estimation, collect data, and explore units of measurement.
- In addition to using manipulables and hands-on
activities, have students develop charts and diagrams, or create
note cards to define terms, show examples, etc. to explore how
math terms are related.
- Have students use different representations
to describe the same situation. For example, demonstrate how
something can be shown using a table, a graph, written description,
- Give students access to a dynamic or
interactive computer software program that allows them to manipulate
symbols, compare concepts, etc.