Mathematizing ESOL

Math skills are a critical part of everyday life that contribute to academic and workforce success. For English language learners, the struggle to learn math can be complicated by language and cultural barriers. In addition, math classes are not always readily available as math is often not a part of ESOL programs. Recently, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) has brought attention to the need for math instruction with English language learners. As programs begin to change their curricula, ESOL teachers often find themselves unprepared to incorporate math into their lessons. Even when they are comfortable with the math concepts, they generally face a classroom where students have been grouped by language level, not by math background, resulting in huge variation in math backgrounds. Students’ use of differing forms of math notation from their countries of origin also adds to the confusion.

To help teachers get started integrating math into their ESOL classes, TERC’s Adult Numeracy Center teamed up with the EdTech Center at World Education to develop a series of online professional development courses. These courses were developed by the MA SABES PD Center for Mathematics and Adult Numeracy at TERC, with funding from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. They are also offered for free to MA ABE practitioners through the SABES PD Center for Mathematics and Adult Numeracy.

Each course takes on increasingly complex math topics, starting with the basics of introducing math in an ESOL class in Mathematizing ESOL I to incorporating proportions into ESOL classes in Mathematizing ESOL III. Throughout each six-week course, participants interact with course materials, fellow classmates and course facilitators through readings, videos, online discussion boards, assignments and other activities. For example, in Mathematizing ESOL I, participants build and then share lessons, contextualized for their own learners, based on the “Show Me the Money” activity, which you can download here as a Word Doc and in action in the classroom.

Teachers taking the courses have repeatedly commented about their increased comfort with bringing math into their ESOL classes and have shared their and their students’ appreciation of lessons that build conceptual understanding while staying grounded in everyday situations.

From a participant’s course reflection: “My own thinking about math has changed: I understand now that there are multiple ways to frame and approach a problem, and I have already introduced this flexible way of thinking to my classes. We did a lesson on converting kilograms to pounds in my Level 1 class this week, and I felt much more comfortable leading it and more helpful to the students having participated in this course. I really enjoyed the activities where we developed and adapted word problems for different levels, and I see lots of possibilities for using these in class and developing role-plays to go along with them.”  -Brian Jordan, ESOL Instructor, Mattapan, MA

As more and more programs begin to offer their English language learners the opportunity to improve their math skills along with their language skills, we hope that this course series provides teachers with the confidence, math knowledge, and inspiration to venture into new territory and to improve their practice.

To learn more about registering yourself or ESOL teachers in your program, please contact Leah Peterson at or 617-385-3740 or visit us online at .

Published by

Leah Peterson

Leah Peterson

Leah Peterson is the Assistant Director of the EdTech Center @ World Education. She manages the E-Learning Professional Development program, coordinates the IDEAL Consortium, and is the editor for the Tech Tips for Teachers blog. She also coordinates the communications efforts for World Education/U.S. Leah is working toward her M.Ed in E-Learning and Instructional Design at Northeastern University.