Accelerate Math Learning This Summer Through Engaging Instruction

Savvas Insights Team

Students during the pandemic have taken a collective step backwards in terms of math growth, according to a December 2021 NWEA study that highlighted the urgent need to support students’ math development. Yet, getting students to focus on math during summer learning can be difficult at a time when they'd rather be out having sunny adventures with their friends.

“Who in the summer, wants to do the tough stuff?” asked Savvas author and math educator Juanita Copley, Ph.D. suggesting that a summer curriculum needs to be especially engaging to inspire students to want to learn. “I firmly believe that math is so much fun if it’s learned in context. Let students explore problems, rather than just give them problems. Then they will care about the math and even enjoy doing it.”

“I found that if I could teach math in a real-life context, leveraging the students’ previous real-life experiences, and integrating it with other content areas, such as art and science, students were actually excited about math. They saw a purpose to their learning.”

When students are engaged in their math learning, it's noticeable. They’re actively discussing problems with their peers. They’re exploring mathematical ideas and solving problems through relatable, real-world applications. When students can find joy in learning, it can lead to positive academic outcomes. In fact, according to the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Washington, “Research has demonstrated that engaging students in the learning process increases their attention and focus, motivates them to practice higher-level critical thinking skills, and promotes meaningful learning experiences.”

Finding ways to accelerate learning through engaging instruction this summer will be more important than ever. So, we turned to our Savvas authors for recommendations on high-interest activities and confidence-building tasks that will bring joy to summer learning and pave the way to academic success for the next school year.

Engage Students by Putting Mathematical Ideas into Real-Life Contexts

During her 10 years teaching during the summer, Juanita has found that summertime is ideal for getting students thinking about how math relates to their everyday lives. Students are spending more time outside of the classroom so they have more opportunities to apply their math learning to authentic situations.

“Often students see math as ‘stuff’ that really isn’t important to their daily lives,” Juanita said. “I found that if I could teach math in a real-life context, leveraging the students’ previous real-life experiences, and integrating it with other content areas, such as art and science, students were actually excited about math. They saw a purpose to their learning.”

high school students

She would often choose real-life themes and apply mathematical concepts to them. For example, if students were taking a camping trip or visiting a museum, she would have them think about budgeting the cost of food and transportation; calculating travel times or fuel consumption; using distances on a map, etc. Or have them consider ideas like measurement and elapsed time when going to an amusement park.

“We traveled around to restaurants and tested different hamburgers, or we stayed in the kitchen and tested different recipes,” she said. “And in doing that we got in fractions, weight, statistical reports. And they loved it.”

Make Math Learning Authentic with 3-Act Math Lessons

Problem-based and visual learning through activities like 3-Act Math Modeling lessons help students see the math and deepen conceptual understanding. The concept of 3-Act Math lessons are whole-group activities consisting of three distinct parts: an engaging and perplexing Act One (the hook), an information and solution seeking Act Two (the model), and a solution discussion and solution revealing Act Three (the resolution). Using these activities in your summer instruction can provide students with high-interest math projects that engage, involve, and challenge students at all levels.

3-Act Math

“When students engage with 3-Act Math lessons, they are building agency and engaging in activities where they have choice and input on what ideas are pursued,” Savvas authors Zachary Champagne and Jennifer M. Suh discuss in their 2021 Savvas whitepaper, 3-Act Mathematical Modeling: Authentic Engagement with Mathematical Ideas. “The impact of choice and self-determination on learning is well documented in the research and literature.”

During a 3-Act Math lesson, students have the chance to ask questions. When teachers ask, “What questions do you have?,” they are genuinely interested in hearing how students respond because there are no expected answers. As teachers show they are invested in the students’ expressed ideas, both student and teacher become engaged in the conversation. And when students are invested in the task, they are more engaged in mathematics.

Build Confidence Through Small, Easily Focused Objectives

Trying to be “better at math” is an overwhelming idea. Juanita suggests assigning your students a small but specific objective for each of them to learn every day.

high school students

For example, one student’s objective could be to learn eights in multiplications. During the day, the student would spend time focusing on that objective, and at the end of the day be asked to present the learned idea to an audience, such as parents or peers. “Being able to explain what they learned to others helps them retain it,” she said. This also allows the teacher to identify any misunderstandings the students may have and adapt instruction to accommodate those needs.

“If they see they can learn one thing at a time,” Jaunita said, “it will build confidence and make math learning more joyful.”

To learn about easy-to-implement Savvas summer learning solutions that incorporate engaging activities for students go to


About The Author

Juanita Copley, Ph.D.

Juanita Copley, Ph.D. is the former program coordinator of Early Childhood in the College of Education. She directed the Early Childhood Mathematics Collaborative, a professional development project that involved hundreds of beginning and practicing teachers. She has written and edited eight books about early childhood mathematics. She is an author for Savvas Learning Company’s enVision® Mathematics.


About The Author

Zachary Champagne

Zachary Champagne is a lead elementary teacher and math specialist at The Discovery School in Jacksonville, Florida. He taught elementary math and science for 13 years and had received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). He was also named the Duval County Teacher of the Year and a finalist for Florida Teacher of the Year. He is one of the authors of Savvas Learning Company’s enVision® Mathematics.


About The Author

Jennifer Suh, Ph.D.

Jennifer Suh, Ph.D. is a professor of mathematics education at George Mason University. She teaches mathematics methods courses in the Elementary Education Program and mathematics leadership courses for the Mathematics Specialist Masters and Ph.D. Programs. She directs the Center for Outreach in Mathematics Professional Learning and Educational Technology, COMPLETE, a joint center between the College of Education and the College of Science. She is an author for Savvas enVision® Mathematics.