The subject can be as divisive to people as a division problem. We all know plenty of adults who to this day exclaim their distaste for all things mathematics. You know the type, at a restaurant they’re quick to pass the bill breakdown to someone else. Or they’re English teachers.
On the flipside, we also know plenty of adults who love puzzles, logic games, budgeting, planning, designing, and computer science – all of which are just different forms of math. They know there are few things as satisfying as solving an issue by crunching some numbers.
The question is how do we turn our reluctant math students into the kinds of people who become lifelong lovers of solving puzzles and problems?
Unlike many other subjects students study in their educational journey, math is the most like a game. There is a right answer. It’s solvable. It’s designed to be won. Teachers have the chance to lean into this inherent aspect of mathematics and engage all students towards success.
However, this idea of the “right answer” is the main cause to the challenges of teaching math. The frustrations that build in students come from when they can’t solve the problem. It’s up to the teacher to foster an environment where mistakes are part of the process, and not simply a failure.
Here are some top tips to help amp up the engagement level when teaching math:
SUPPORT THEIR MISTAKES
Students need to make mistakes when learning math. The process of solving problems in any grade level requires development of foundational skills. This means there’s plenty of opportunity to make errors. However, it’s essential they feel these mistakes are part of their learning. Often in multi-tiered lessons students can fall off track, so it’s essential to be aware of where everyone is on the journey. Show them that in their errors they can learn how to adjust their thinking and work so they can continue to move along. It shows the students they have ownership and achievement possibilities in every step. It’s not just about the final answer, it’s about the entire process.
MAKE REAL LIFE CONNECTIONS
One of the most important aspects of teaching math is showing students how people use these methods in real life. Present these examples every step of the way. If you’re teaching decimals and percentages, use money for examples. Model the work with real life examples to show how this is more than just a problem they need to solve for school. Geometry lends itself to city planning and architecture. Show examples and visuals to help students grasp that geometry is everywhere they go. The more specific you can make the examples to the students’ everyday lives, the higher level of engagement you’ll achieve.
HAVE STUDENTS BE THE TEACHER
As you’ll have some students understand the problems before others, use this opportunity to change up who is leading the review and breakdown of the work. Allow all students a chance to go to the board and diagram the problem to the class. If a student is struggling, have them work with another student. The point of this is allowing students to see this isn’t just the teacher telling them what they need to do, but rather them discovering from each other the methods they need to solve the problems. It allows all students to become mindfully engaged in the work when it’s their turn to go to the board and show the work.
PERSONALIZE THE MATH
This takes a little more preparation time, but it can go a long way to helping engage your students and it’s a simple tool to employ. Write the problems and questions with your students’ names and names of other teachers, and even celebrities and characters your students like. It makes the task more fun and students will begin to look forward to seeing whose name will come up next. This isn’t just for word problems. An equation can be introduced with a personalized name needing to find the answer. So instead of “Solve for x” it can be “Help SALLY STUDENT solve for x.” A small gesture that will perk up even the most reluctant learner.
Telling students individually something positive about their work is a tool any teacher in any subject can use. Sometimes students may feel like no one is really paying attention to the work they are doing. Even if they are struggling with a concept, make sure to take a moment to address that student with positivity and care. Let them know you can see them working hard and that you believe they will master the skill soon. Students need this, especially in a subject like math.
What are some ways you engage your math students?