SLA’s approach to teaching math uses a three-step learning process: concrete, pictorial, and abstract. In the first step, students engage in hands-on learning experiences using concrete objects such as chips, dice, and other manipulatives. This is built upon by having students draw pictorial representations (using hash marks, drawing the number story, etc.) of mathematical concepts.

Students then solve mathematical problems in an abstract way by using numbers and symbols. In other words, teachers use models (number lines, manipulatives) to convey concepts and strategies for problem solving, and games to help achieve mastery of math facts. Research has shown that rote practice leads only to short-term memory gains. The result of the SLA approach is deeper understanding as well as sharp-and-ready mental arithmetic skills.