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4 Ways to Engage and Encourage Math Students

In this blog post you'll find several ideas to help you encourage math students in their studies.

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

1) Music

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.

4) Enthusiasm

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!

Free Math Facts Music & Activities

Songs, music, and rhyme are all helpful tools to aid students with math facts. Download some math songs to sing while you’re outside! There are also activities for when the weather doesn’t lend itself to outside math.

To access your free math facts practice tools, please provide the following information.

Download free songs, activities, coloring pages, and more to help your students learn math facts!

In this blog post you'll find several ideas to help you encourage math students in their studies.

How Children on the Spectrum Can Benefit from Multisensory Learning

While all students can benefit from multisensory learning, it can be particularly beneficial for students who have sensory or attention issues.

Benefits of Multisensory Learning

Before we continue, it’s important to address the obvious question. You might be thinking, “Isn’t most learning multisensory learning? I mean, any time you’re engaging more than one of the five senses, doesn’t that count as multisensory?”

Technically, yes it does. In literal terms, the standard fare of reading text and listening to instruction counts as multisensory learning. However, this “universal” teaching method does not account for the fact that each student processes information differently across different subjects and in different contexts. Further, this traditional method of instruction does not utilize touch or movement (kinesthetics) as highly-effective tools for learning.

By contrast, we can say that one benefit of true multisensory instruction is that, by acknowledging that every child learns differently, it helps tap into students’ learning preferences, allowing them to make stronger connections and form memories. In addition, we are then able to provide students with a wider range of ways (including touch and movement) to show what they’ve learned.

While all students can benefit from multisensory learning, it can be particularly beneficial for students who have sensory or attention issues, such as students on the autism spectrum.

Multisensory Learning and Autism Spectrum Disorder

In education there is a strong emphasis placed on visual and auditory instruction. But what if your student has auditory processing issues? What if their eyes are sensitive to the lighting in your kitchen, and as a result they struggle to focus on the page in front of them? What if they are unable to vocalize their answers, or struggle with the fine motor skills required to hold a pencil?

Typical instruction would require your student to endure many of these obstacles throughout each lesson—understandably making learning a pretty unpleasant experience for student and parent alike. However, a multisensory approach to learning would provide your student with alternate means to both understand and convey information, thus bypassing the initial sensory obstacle(s) to learning.

For example, imagine how empowering it would be for a nonverbal student to teach back double-digit multiplication using manipulatives, such as the colorful Math-U-See integer blocks! Giving students the tools they need to be successful is an integral part of multisensory learning.

Variety is the Spice of Learning

Multisensory learning is beneficial to all students (and adults), not just those with processing difficulties. This is because when we engage with something using more than one sense, it forms more neural connections related to memory, and is thus more likely to be remembered. Our belief in the effectiveness of multisensory learning is demonstrated through the Math-U-See program’s Build, Write, Say process — prompting students to first model the concept using manipulatives, write the numbers and symbols, then verbally teach back the information in their own words.

Remember — the only limitation to multisensory learning is your own creativity (or, if you’re not the creative type, your ability to look up ideas on the internet)! Feel free to make a mess with your student every now and again, allow them to move around a bit, get the dog involved, and—most importantly—make it engaging!

Related Blog Posts

How to Use the Math-U-See Manipulatives

Math Manipulatives Aren’t Just for “Little Kids”

Should Your Preschooler Use Math-U-See Blocks?

While all students can benefit from multisensory learning, it can be particularly beneficial for students who have sensory or attention issues.