Posted by: degarcia | November 24, 2008

Meaning-centered Classrooms


What are they?


Meaning-centered classrooms are classrooms that are focused around the direct meaning and application of content rather than content taught in isolation.  Skills are practice frequently in the classroom in correlation with other content areas to create an effective and well-rounded student. When teachers focus on the meaning and everyday use of the content knowledge being used in the classroom, the students will understand and see that the information is vital and necessary in their daily lives and in their future.


Things to Remember

·         Generally inquiry based

·         Environment, content, teaching and learning are clear

·         Students construct meaning that is understood at the end of the lesson

·         Problems/questions relate to real-world experiences or situations

·         Taught in any grade level

·         Revolves around group work and discussion

·         Finding the big ideas




Vital Facts:


1.      In Japan, students spend a great deal of classroom time analyzing meaningful situations and working for long periods to solve non-routine problems. In contrast, U.S. students spend the majority of their time independently practicing a specific procedure demonstrated by the teacher. This educational strategy is contrary to research that shows that knowledge of rote procedures often interferes with students’ attempt to build on their informal knowledge (Mack, 1990). In fact, traditional drill-and-practice teaching can even inhibit understanding, reify the divide between school and the “real world,” and suppress the transfer of knowledge (Boaler, 1996).


2.      Recent publications have suggested that a problem-centered approach might improve the mathematics competency of low achieving students.


3.      Research by Ginsburg-Block and Fantuzzo (1998) also showed that instruction that emphasized problem solving and peer collaboration enhanced the mathematics achievement, motivation and self-concept of low-achieving third and fourth graders. In fact, problem centered learning has been shown to foster high mathematics achievement and meaningful communication for all students in the second grade (Cobb, Wood, & Yackel, 1991a; Cobb et al., 1991; Thompson, 1985; Wood & Sellars, 1996).


4.      Sfard (2000) asserts, “thinking is subordinate to, and informed by, the demands of communication” (p. 297). Thus organizing students in small groups to complete mathematics tasks and then present their solutions to the class has the potential of promoting thinking. These opportunities to communicate play a decisive role in mathematics learning. Further, Sfard argues that it is through this process that individuals construct the mathematical objects that constitute knowledge.


5.      In a problem-centered learning strategy, activities are designed to emphasize communication and meaning making.


Ideas for Lesson Plans


1.      Divisibility Inquiry lesson plan

Overview: 5/6th Grade math where students discover how to come up with diviisiblity rules that they can use to help with finding the greatest common factor. (Attachment 1)



2.      Math Investigations Facilitation Plan

Overview: In Math Investigations, students choose a topic involving math that interests them to investigate or research. Students make a plan detailing how they will investigate their topic. The teacher reviews and approves the plan. Students use their MATH INVESTIGATION JOURNAL to record their research. Students publish their findings and share them with the class. Some examples are keeping track of plant heights over time, measuring the amount of daylight and its changes during a particular time period, and following temperature trends.


3.      Learning and Teaching: K-12 Teaching and Learning

This website is inquiry based and also focuses on real life situations while teaching mathematic skills. Contains all grade levels.




1.      This site contains research trials regarding mathematics in Holland based on the Realistic Mathematics Education, or RME. RME is the Dutch answer to the world-wide felt need to reform the teaching and learning of mathematics. The roots of the Dutch reform movement go back to the early seventies when the first ideas for RME were conceptualized. It was a reaction to both the American “New Math” movement that was likely to flood our country in those days, and to the then prevailing Dutch approach to mathematics education, which often is labeled as “mechanistic mathematics education.”


2.      A case study that centered around the learning impacts on students in a student-centered environment. Mathematics is specifically mentioned on page 21.




Bahr, D. and L.A. de Garcia (2010).  Ch 14: Teaching measurement in a meaning centered classroom. Elementary Mathematics is Anything but Anything. Boston: Houghton Mifflin

Cantrell, Susan Chambers.(1999, December). Effective teaching and literacy learning: A look inside primary classrooms.  Reading Teacher, 52(4), p370.

Ridlon, Candice L. (2004). The effects of a problem centered approached to mathematics on low-achieving sixth graders. Focus on Learning Problems in Mathemetics, p.1.

2004. Concept to classroom. Retrieved December 16, 2008, from Thirteen Ed Online Website

The University of North Carolina of Chapel Hill. (2004) Classroom: best practices. Retrieved December 16, 2008, from LEAN NC website

Streefland (1985). Realistic Mathematics Education. Retrieved December 16, 2008, from Freundenthal Institute Website



%d bloggers like this: