As mathematics educators, we want students to know the joy and importance of math! We want them to recognize that Katherine Johnson’s calculations helped put a man in space and a GPS is a simple coordinate grid. Or that scientists create vaccines from a geometric understanding of a virus’ cell. We want them to understand that mathematics unlocks infinite possibilities for today and the future. The question is, how do we get students to value the importance of math and value their contribution to their learning? A mathematics classroom should provide students with a blend of rigorous learning and social skills development opportunities. By combining these two components, we can prepare students to become critical thinkers, problem solvers, and productive community members—hopefully solving future challenges.

So, what does a rigorous, student-centered math class have in common with educating students in social competencies? Let’s take a look at the mathematics classroom in relation to each social competency as provided by CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) framework. Though each of the five competencies is unique, all overlap and contribute to a child’s overall social and emotional well-being.


Self-awareness occurs when students recognize how their strengths, actions, and reactions help them accomplish tasks. As educators, we can foster this by providing open-ended experiences to solved problems in multiple ways. Encourage students to use their understanding to express ideas and support their strategies with justifications. When solving math problems, allow students to choose the method that works for them, and follow-up by having students explain their reasoning and approaches.


When we challenge students to manage their behaviors and responses in a variety of situations, they begin to develop self-management. Mastery of this competency allows students more opportunity to reach academic milestones. A Math Menu is a great tool to foster self-management.  Give students choices in how to share their knowledge of a certain concept. This could be writing a song, creating a TikTok video, designing a comic strip, or creating a game. All outcomes reinforce the math concept and offer students the opportunity to problem solve, plan, and organize their product.

Social awareness

Social awareness requires students to recognize, seek to understand, and relate to others with empathy. Partner and small group math activities afford students the opportunity to see other problem-solving methods, discuss outcomes, and reach consensus through productive interactions. Students learn these skills during cooperative math situations and are applicable to all aspects of education and life.

Relationship skills

Relationship skills are the building blocks for a successful adult. A mathematics classroom is the perfect environment to support and build those skills. When students work in small groups or play a math game, they are required to effectively interact with others. Though designed to teach or reinforce a concept, these situations offer time to share information, justify reasoning, stimulate further discussion, and foster healthy communication.

Responsible decision-making

Responsible decision-making comes about when we allow students to use a variety of methods to reach a common outcome. A great example in a math classroom would be to design an activity using a rubric. Students are presented with the parameters for the product but are given the autonomy to design their approach. Students are also challenged to use a variety of critical thinking skills during the process. This helps them gain a better understanding of how their decisions influence their outcomes.

When planning instruction in a math classroom, it is vital we provide situations for students to grow both academically and emotionally. Educators must take the time to share how math helps improve our lives. By helping students see the value—in not only math—but also how actions affect others, you may light a fire that ignites a new generation of critical thinkers.