Whether we are educating students at home or in a classroom, we have wonderful hopes and dreams for our students and their learning, including actually enjoying learning. In the day-to-day slog of life, though, it is so easy for us to lose sight of those lofty goals. How often do we find our Pinterest-worthy dreams giving way to another exasperated “Just get it done!”? This slump can occur with any subject, but math seems particularly susceptible. So, then, how can we impart the joy of learning math to our students?
The Joy of Having Fun
1) Provide Opportunities For On-Task Silliness
Math is important. Math could be serious all the time, or, as Mr. Demme illustrates over and over in the Math-U-See videos, we can invite giggling and silliness into the routine.
Read word problems with a funny voice, act them out, or illustrate them using art supplies. Make up stories or jokes to go with problems that don’t have words. Above all, smile, laugh, and allow yourself and your student to enjoy math.
2) Deny Negativity a Place at the Table
Focusing on the positive aspects of students’ learning helps them gain self-confidence, and self-confidence is key to a student engaging more deeply with what they are learning. Every student can do math, and research shows that a teacher truly believing that fact makes a significant difference in student outcomes. Even when a student is struggling, choose to encourage them and reassure them that you know they can master the concept.
One way to encourage a struggling student is to count the number of problems the student completes correctly (instead of the number wrong), and to visually track that number increasing over time. Another way is to point out the sections of a solution that show they are on the path to mastering a concept. Then go back and work through the stumbling blocks together.
3) Play Math Games
Well-designed games are fantastic tools for adding another dimension to math and the joy of having fun. There are a wealth of products for purchase as well as DIY game ideas available online. Many apps are available; for younger students you can check out KinderTown to find app recommendations and activities.
Some students excel in creating their own games, and even the problems on a workbook page (or page made with a worksheet generator) can be used as fodder for a spontaneous game. Regardless of their source, the best math-related games address skill development while being a lot of fun for students to play.
The Joy of “I Get It!”
4) Follow the Pace of the Student
Each student learns concepts at a different rate. Since math is sequential, students who are hurried along from concept to concept without mastery struggle with more difficult concepts later, but, more importantly, we rob the student of the joy of understanding. When we following the pace of the student, we allow the student to engage, to wrestle, and to experience the elation of the “I get it” moment.
5) Be Present In Their “I Get It!” Moment
We usually think of empathy as identifying with someone’s sadness or difficulty. Yet we can also express empathic joy. When students experience the “lightbulb” moment, help them pause and notice that great feeling, revel in it with them, and name it as the joy of learning. Modeling this joy when we feel it and inviting students to feel it with us will also help them develop into lifelong lovers of learning.
The Joy of a Job Well Done
6) Celebrate Improvement
Even if improvement seems small from your perspective, celebrate it. Recognizing improvement is as important along the way as the end goal of mastery, so be sure to say something like “well done” when a student does better than last time.
Praise is best when you can put it back on the student and not have it be a judgement/standard from the teacher or parent. Examples: You did it! You got it! Or better yet, link it to a specific task.
Example: “You were able to compute 36 correct facts in two minutes on today’s math time drill. That’s four more facts than earlier this week—impressive!”
7) Celebrate Mastery
Whether your student demonstrates mastery on the first worksheet of a lesson or much later, celebrate it. Again, each student and concept is different. For a large task like mastering all the multiplication facts, a hug and “well done” may be suitable for one student. Another student who took months and months may get a special meal or household party. Regardless, celebrate mastery in a way such that your student feels the joyful satisfaction of learning.