A Toolbox Packed with Practical Math Ideas

The Math Teacher’s Toolbox: Hundreds of Practical Ideas to Support Your Students
By Bobson Wong and Larisa Bukalov
(Jossey-Bass, 2020 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Laura Von Staden

After repeated negative experiences in math, many people develop math anxiety, which can then be passed on to the next generation of students by their parents or their teachers (pg. 1).

In this volume, part of the Toolbox series edited by Larry Ferlazzo and Katie Sypnieski (following The ELL Teacher’s Toolbox), Bobson Wong and Larisa Bukalov set out to help people not only overcome their math anxiety, but appreciate math and use it in the real world by equipping their teachers with, as the title indicates, hundreds of tools for their toolbox.

The book is divided into 4 sections: 1) Basic Strategies; 2) How to Plan; 3) Building Relationships; and 4) Enhancing Lessons. It is further subdivided into 20 chapters.

Each chapter has numerous sections:

  • What is it? (the chapter topic)
  • Why we like it
  • Supporting research
  • Common Core standards
  • Application
  • Differentiation,
  • Student handouts and examples
  • What could go wrong
  • Technology connections, and
  • Figures/reproducibles

Tons of essential teaching advice

The authors provide tons of teaching advice in this highly referenced and cross-referenced book. It feels like we have a master math teacher coaching us on what works and what does not work as well, or only works sometimes.

Wong and Bukalov, both award-winning classroom teachers, are also very upfront about what it is like in real classrooms, and although they discuss the ideals, they point out the places where a strategy might be impractical or unrealistic, offering alternatives or more realistic expectations.

While many states are moving away from the Common Core standards, the standards that are referenced in this book are the Standards of Mathematical Practices (SMPs) which is really the meat of how math is done rather than specific grade level standards. So, whether your state is using Common Core standards or not, this particular standards reference section is applicable.

Although most of the strategies provided can work well at any grade level, the student handouts and examples provided are primarily at the Algebra level and above and include both student handouts (blank and filled out) and a discussion of the work.

The technology connections sections give an extensive list of superior resources that are useful across grade levels, and the differentiation section in each chapter doesn’t just address struggling students and English learners, but also students who are gifted or need additional challenges for a variety of reasons.

Tried and true along with new trends

The wide variety of topics, vital to both a strong learning environment and specifically to building math learners, critical thinkers and problem solvers, are addressed in this extensive reference. Drawing on both tried and true strategies and resources and the newest trends in education, Wong and Bukalov provide a very real classroom approach and perspective to every area of teaching math.

For instance, in their chapter on culturally responsive teaching they discuss strategies to move from being “color (culture) blind” – the idea that all students are the same – to the realization that this approach devalues all cultures. They provide strategies and tools to incorporate and honor the variety of cultures in our classrooms.

The need for excellent math teachers who can be great role models and help build better thinkers and problem solvers for the future cannot be underestimated. Through the strategies, tools, and resources in this book the authors have created a valuable teacher’s toolbox that can help any math teacher become an excellent math teacher ready to influence and guide the next generation of learners.

This book should be part of new teacher training for all math teachers and will be a welcome resource in any math teacher’s professional library.

Dr. Laura Von Staden is currently a Middle School Gifted Math and Science teacher in Tampa, Florida. She serves on numerous committees in her school district, works closely with the local university, and writes curriculum. She is also a professional development consultant and previously served as an Exceptional Student Education Specialist and as a mentor.

Read the authors’ article “Tiered Activities Make Math More Inclusive” here at MiddleWeb.


MiddleWeb is all about the middle grades, with great 4-8 resources, book reviews, and guest posts by educators who support the success of young adolescents. And be sure to subscribe to MiddleWeb SmartBrief for the latest middle grades news & commentary from around the USA.

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