Sometimes, math lessons can be an uphill battle – especially if your student is not particularly enthusiastic about the subject. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my dad one night as he tried to help me understand long division. “I just. Don’t. Get it,” I groaned, emphasizing each syllable by gently (and somewhat melodramatically) hitting myself in the head with my notebook. Without missing a beat, my dad chuckled, “Well, I don’t think that’s how you’re going to learn it, either.”
I don’t remember how the rest of that evening played out, but I do know that there are many families who have stories similar to mine. (Odds are, if you’re reading this blog post, you might even have a few stories of your own!)
Below, you’ll find several ideas to help you further encourage your student’s engagement in their own math studies. Feel free to tweak and expand these suggestions, as you are the one who best knows your student and what will benefit them.
4 Ways to Engage and Encourage Math Students
Most kids enjoy music and singing, so it’s no surprise that this can be a highly effective tool to encourage participation in math, especially for younger students. As an added bonus, songs or rhythmic patterns can also be excellent tools to assist with memory. Want proof? Ask a young student to recite the alphabet for you. Odds are, they’ll begin singing it, since the Alphabet song is how most children learn their letters at a young age. In math, nursery rhymes and songs can be useful tools to aid in counting and writing numbers, while pattern recognition (such as the rhythmic patterns found in music) is an important first step to understanding more complex mathematical concepts, such as multiplication facts.
This concept of using music/rhythm to encourage and enhance mathematical learning is one that we at Demme Learning also believe in. In fact, the Math-U-See® program even includes some pretty catchy “Math Facts” songs, which reinforce skip counting and addition strategies that you can download for free. Oh, and don’t worry if you aren’t musically inclined yourself—your student will likely just be happy to sing along with you!
2) Games and Movement
There are few things more motivating to students than games or being able to move around. Games break up the monotony of the day for student and instructor alike, and there are countless resources available which highlight the cognitive benefits of movement-based learning. Games help frame learning in a more lighthearted way, and allow students to demonstrate and practice mathematical skills in a new and exciting context.
Even with something as simple as a set of cards, you can practice number and pattern recognition. There are also many board games available that rely heavily on counting, subitizing, and addition to move pieces around the game board. And besides, who doesn’t love a bit of healthy competition?
3) Positive Feedback
If math is difficult for your student, they will likely be more easily discouraged by setbacks or failures, and therefore may have a lower frustration tolerance for math work overall. If this sounds like something you encounter regularly, be sure to praise and encourage your student’s effort (regardless of whether or not they provide the correct answer). By complimenting your student’s willingness to persevere and engage with their math work, you are encouraging their willingness to simply try something challenging, which will benefit them in areas well beyond mathematics.
This is the big one. Your own enthusiasm for a subject can heavily influence your student’s interest in that subject (in this case, math). Enthusiasm is contagious, and something as simple as varying your tone of voice can have a strong impact on your student’s willingness to engage with a lesson.
To better illustrate this point, let’s create a hypothetical situation in which you are attending a gardening expo. While at this event, you witness two public speakers: one is animated, humorous, shares personal experiences, and seems genuinely excited to be presenting to you; the other speaks in a steady monotone voice, reads exclusively from cue cards, and lets out several big yawns in the midst of their presentation. Which of these two speakers is more likely to spark your interest in gardening?
In short: enthusiasm is contagious! Be sure to let your student know how excited you are to be studying math with them. Odds are, they’ll be excited to work on it with you, too!