Why We Fail At Teaching Math & 8 Types of Tech Tools to Improve

Failings of the Math Classroom

Too often math is taught as a series of memorizations where even math games are often re-packaged drill-and-kill exercises. Life (just like great movies) is filled with open-ended journeys with open-ended questions. Students should learn not only the skills of arithmetic but also how to ask better questions to determine what is needed.  The chart below shows why we so often fail in teaching open-math in the classroom.

Math In School Vs. Reality IN SCHOOL Neat & concise. Learning through memorization Well defined problems Speed is emphasized Accuracy essential Work in isolation AS A DISCIPLINE Messy Learning through process Ill-defined problems Persistence is emphasized Creativity essential Collaborative Experience

One way to open up math instruction is to make it a realistic problem or story. That framework of open storytelling is the basis of Dan Meyer’s 3-act math. Using videos, images, and applications Meyer introduces students to a central conflict, guides them to overcome obstacles, and allows students to resolve the conflict while setting up an extension/sequel.

You can find examples at G-Fletchy, Weebly, or on Dan Meyer’s spreadsheet. Find similar estimations at Estimation 180, graphing activities at Desmos, lessons and games at Math for Love, and multimedia math stories at Math Snacks.

Below is a select list of our other favorite math tools. You can also go online to find a more thorough list of math resources.

Math Apps.png

List of Resources

VIDEOS & VISUALSEstimation 180




  • Interactives (dice adding, fraction shapes, number lines, etc.)
  • SMART Lab – game-based learning creation tool
  • Activity Builder – create your own interactive tools
  • Geogebra – geometry package providing for both graphical and algebraic input.
  • Equation Writer – add equations to a lessons easily


Visual Modeling

Dragon box numbers.jpegNumerical Understanding

  • DragonBox Math – 5 apps, $4.99 to $7.99, ranging from number sense to algebra and geometry
  • MotionMath Games – 9 apps, $2.99 – $5.99/subscription – arithmetic, word problems, fractions, number lines, & more
  • Teachley – 4 apps, Free – $4.99, arithmetic animal adventures
  • Slice Fractions – $5.49, fraction adventure game
  • Divide by Sheep – $2.99, puzzle game
  • MathSnacks (3 Apps, Free – $2.99) – ratios, fractions, and number line games & videos
  • Prodigy – Final Fantasy-like adventure game that involves math
  • Pick a Path – math puzzle maze

screen480x480.jpegEarly Childhood

MathboardSkill Practice

MyScript Calculator.pngTools

Math Learning Center

The Math Learning Center is a nonprofit organization that seeks to inspire and enable individuals to discover and develop their mathematical confidence and ability. The offer a curriculum, resources, and a learning blog.  Among those resources are a suite of math demonstration/exploration apps that cover a number of skills across several platforms. Among these are Fractions, Geoboard, Money Pieces, Number Frames, Number Line, Number Pieces, Number Rack, Pattern Shapes, & Vocabulary Cards. Find them for Apple, Chrome, or online. Also check out the lessons and scholarships that are available.

Mathematics is not about numbers, equations, computations, or algorithms: it is about understanding

-William Paul Thurston

11 thoughts on “Why We Fail At Teaching Math & 8 Types of Tech Tools to Improve

  1. Hi Sean, Love this list of resources. I was brought here after your post on ethics regarding the NYT story. Definitely hits home for me as a teacher who left the classroom last year to work for an EdTech Company and spent hundreds of hours of my own time learning and sharing online and cultivating my brand.
    Have you had a chance to check out EquatIO and possibly add it to your list? It is a new way to create digital math in Google’s GSuite (and we will have Mac and Windows versions for Word later this month) and everything we create is automatically accessible as well! https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/equatio-math-made-digital/hjngolefdpdnooamgdldlkjgmdcmcjnc

  2. Really surprised to see that PhET simulations are not on your list – you should check them out!

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