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Engage and Motivate Your Students in Math

As a veteran elementary teacher and math specialist, I am absolutely sure that what is important in helping children develop a positive attitude toward math and become confident mathematicians is the power of an effective teacher. Finding those engaging “hooks” to draw children into the math is the challenge.

Many students feel like math is just memorizing facts and processes and then repeating it on a test. Certainly doable, but not very entertaining. Not much real learning is going on.

Overcoming math terror is a job teachers face, and it’s true more often than we would like. How can teachers get students past that terror and into a love of mathematics. What might that “hook” be?

Effective teachers seem to rely on proven approaches, including high expectations, engagement, motivation, and support. All are worthy, but I would like to speak to engagement and motivation.

Research has demonstrated that students learn more if they are actively engaged with the math they are studying. Constance Kamii, a world renowned expert on how children learn math puts it this way, “Children who are mentally active develop faster than those who are passive.”

Active learning is, in short, anything that students do in a classroom other than merely listen to a teacher’s lecture. There are several ways of doing this. Playing math games is a particularly useful one.

Games can provide an atmosphere where children are encouraged and motivated to:
• share their ideas with other children
• be alert and curious
• come up with interesting ideas, problems, and questions
• have confidence in their abilities to figure out things for themselves
• speak their minds with confidence

Games are engaging (maintain interest); dittos or workbook pages rarely are. In the process of playing the game, students may develop initiative, interest, curiosity, resourcefulness, independence, and responsibility. Would that happen with a ditto or workbook page?

Children learn math best when they participate in games that are relevant to them, hold their attention, and require them to “make meaning” for themselves.

Teaching methods that stress rote memorization of basic number facts or algorithmic procedures are usually boring and do not require learners to participate actively in thought and reflection. In other words, they are not engaged or motivated.

Engage and motivate your students in any of the many math games that I have tried and loved.

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