I still remember ever so lightly writing “I hate math” on my math textbook. In pencil. Naturally, I immediately erased it, but the feeling didn’t change. I wasn’t bad at math. But, it was boring and pointless to me. In fact, when I started teaching, math was my least favorite subject to teach. It took a lot to change my mindset and attitude about math. During that process, I learned that it’s essential to make math engaging. That’s easier said than done, so I’d like to share 5 ways to increase math engagement for upper elementary students.
One way to make math relatable is to infuse math into whatever is going on at that time. Of course, it’s important to make math the primary focus of the lesson. It’s easy to allow the content and learning to become lost in the presentation.
I love using seasonal lessons, and it’s absolutely possible to maintain rigor and focus with them.
You can also incorporate lessons that are based on literature, graphs and charts from informational texts, or even video clips. In the lesson below, Cost of Super Bowl, there is a combination of seasonal interest (Super Bowl) and the inclusion of a humorous video clip. You can find that lesson here.
You don’t have to limit yourself to just seasonal lessons to increase engagement in math: think about school wide events that may engage students. For example, students can use book orders to solve math problems, or reference an almanac for a place value activity. They can even use restaurant menus for math problem solving.
You can make your math lessons hands-on and interactive by using manipulatives. Remember, you absolutely do not need all the things either. And, math manipulatives are not just for younger students. They are beneficial for all grade levels and are incredibly important for conceptual learning. You can read more about using math manipulatives here.
You can get ideas on how to incorporate digital math manipulatives here.
Hands-on doesn’t always have to incorporate a fancy math manipulative. You can use food, clay, and so much more!
To increase math engagement we have to find that perfect balance between challenging but not too challenging for students.
It’s almost impossible to make anything fun that is inaccessible to students. I can only image the feeling of sitting in class, listening, and trying my best but still having absolutely no idea what the teacher is talking about. Or course, I’m not suggesting that we spoon feed students or don’t allow them to experience productive struggle. This is referring to students that will not be able to successfully complete an assignment, no matter what supports or scaffolding are provided.
On the flip-side, when students are challenged, they react with excitement. It is a powerful trigger that can be effectively used to develop engagement in math. Giving students an assignment that is “easy” and requires little thought is not going to engage students.
To find that balance we have to differentiate our instruction. This can be done through scaffolding, providing supports, or by adapting the task.
When I was in college I had a job where I did the same thing every. single. day. It was miserable! While it is important for our classrooms to be structured and to have consistent routines, it’s also important to have variety within your math lessons to keep engagement high. It doesn’t matter how good an instructional strategy is, if we do the same thing every day, students will be bored.
Some of my favorite ways to spice up my lessons include:
- Task cards
- Cooperative learning opportunities
- Project based learning
- 3 Act Task
- Escape Rooms
None of these things have to be overly elaborate or require extensive prep or materials. Within each type of activity, there are still so many options. With all of these possibilities, math shouldn’t be boring.
An added bonus of implementing a variety of teaching methods, is that when students need to complete a basic worksheet or review, it’s still somewhat novel for them. There is a time and place for more traditional assignments, and this prevents those activities from becoming monotonous for students.
No child wants to be in a classroom where instruction is delivered primarily through worksheets, textbooks, or online practice. Of course not all worksheets are created equally. There are plenty of great things you can do with an assignment printed on paper. This is really referring to busywork, which is when students are completing low-level work.
There is absolutely a time, place, and need for review. However, when planning for review be sure to keep in mind the quantity of work students are completing and what percent of your instruction is spent on review or low level worksheets.
When I give students low level work, I try to keep it extremely short and sweet. Below are three examples I use in my own classroom.
An added bonus is that you’ll spend even less time grading!
I hope you found this post helpful, and are able to use some of these ideas to boost your students’ engagement with math.