Opportunities for Parents to Engage Students with Math

Math is often considered an esoteric set of information that is disjointed from the reality people face, aside perhaps from money. Sadly, in school, especially in older grade levels, math is indeed presented this way.

sally math problem

A situation as simple as riding an elevator provides opportunities to show and engage a student with math applied in authentic and common situations. For example, the elevator buttons address counting and cardinality (4 indicates a total of 4 floors – ignoring the R), comparison (if we are on floor 2 and need to go down, which floor do we go to?) and measurement (height above ground floor measured in floors). Such situations also provides opportunities for generalization into other settings – the important settings of every day life!

2019-01-18 18.33.56

Authentic Activities – Money and Prices

Below is a photo of a typical worksheet for money. I worked with a parent of a high school student severely impacted by autism and she explained that her son worked on nothing but worksheets when he worked on math. For students with more severe disabilities the worksheet may not be real or meaningful as the photos and the setting may be too abstract.


Below is a photo of shelves in a mock grocery store we set up at our school for students who were in a life skills program. They would have a shopping list, collect the items in a basket then compute the total cost. We had a mock register set up (eventually we procured an actual working register) and the students made the same types of calculations they would on a worksheet but in an authentic setting, which was more concrete. We would start with simple money amounts, e.g. $1.00 then make the prices increasingly more challenging, e.g. $1.73.

mock grocery store

Strategy to Individualize Instruction

It is difficult to individualize instruction in a whole class or small group setting. I created and taught the curriculum for a Consumer Math course at the high school where I teach. For a class of 10-12 students, all with an IEP, I developed an approach that allowed me to individualize the instruction for each students.

In the photo below is an example of a folder set up I used with the students in Consumer Math. Each student would have a dedicated folder, kept in the room and updated daily. The smaller paper shows the individualized agenda. The other paper shows an example of how the folder can be used as a resource. Student computer login information, accommodations like a multiplication table or notes can be secured inside the folder. The agenda would be changed out each day. (In case you are wondering about the label in the agenda, “Math Group 4.” This particular folder was used in a special education training session for teacher candidates.)

individualized folder

Pretest on Money and Spending for Consumer Math

pretest money

The photo shows a pre-posttest for a student in a consumer math class. In the course I taught we would conduct a pretest at the start of the class to determine which of the related skills a student lacked mastery. The course focus for this student was on the identified skills Рhighly individualized. The assessment also provided present level of performance information, allowed us to monitor progress and to evaluate instruction.

Consumer Math

Consumer Math Modules Draft Nov 17 2013

At my school we developed a track for math for students with disability for whom the traditional math courses are inappropriate. Many of the topics and concepts from the traditional courses are addressed but in a practical or applied approach, with the principles of UDL incorporated. This is not a typical dumping ground situation that many of us have encountered. These are courses for students who need support in being independent and who will not benefit from being exposed to simplifying math like (5x + 2y – 3xy) – (7x – 8y + 9xy). Here is a link to some documents, including the units and topics.

Streamlining Differentiation

Photo below shows a grid I use to identify the daily activities for my 12 high school Consumer Math students (all with IEPs) in an 86 minute block.IMAG3910

Our daily agenda is comprised of a warm up puzzle (to get them settled and to allow me to coordinate with the other adults – between 2 and 4) and two rounds of activities. Each column is used for a student. The “C” indicates computer use (we use IXL Math mostly and have 4 computers in the room) and the colors indicate the adult supervising.

Each student has a manilla folder which contains all handouts needed, including the daily puzzle, and the IXL modules to complete taped to the inside front cover.


In a given day we may have different students counting nickels and pennies, identifying coins, identifying bills needed to pay a given price, computing sales tax and total price and creating a monthly budget on Power Point, with photos. The system allows me to track the many details.

%d bloggers like this: