4 Tips to Engage Students in Math

Getting students engaged, excited, and passionate about mathematics will be central to their success as students throughout their educational careers — particularly as they prepare for a job market where STEM skills are in high demand. To help you research strategies and identify resources, we’ve gathered four of our favorite tips for engaging students in math:

#1: Foster math positivity

Whether you’re concerned about your students feeling incapable of excelling in math, or you simply want your students to find joy in mathematics the way you may have seen them find joy in reading or science, creating a math-positive environment is paramount to engagement. Engage students in math by fostering an attitude rooted in a growth mindset, and help them to understand that no matter their preconceived notions about their ability, they can succeed in math. We can’t expect students to enjoy or fully embrace a subject they think they are fundamentally built to never understand, so start engaging students in mathematics practice simply by reiterating that they are not only capable of learning and excelling, but in truly enjoying the learning experience.

This guide from Dr. Raj Shah can serve as an excellent starting point for your math positivity efforts. For an extra boost of math enthusiasm, consider checking out the Global Math Project.

#2: Create a safe environment for productive struggle

Engaging students in math also entails providing an environment where they can learn from a challenge, or “productively struggle.” This can be a tricky balance to achieve, because a struggle can, in fact, become unproductive for a student. Education researchers have identified specific strategies for promoting productive struggle, including rich math conversations and questioning. Productive struggle can also help engage students in math by encouraging them to value growth, be less fearful of making mistakes, and release some of the pressure that can be associated with speed and correct answers in math.

For a deeper dive into productive struggle, check out this blog from Sarah Burns, UChicago STEM Curriculum Developer:

#3: Collaborate with parents and family

Collaborating with parents and family on cultivating new mindsets about math practice will be critical in your efforts to engage students in math. Encourage families to have positive, supportive conversations about math homework and to collaborate with their students, where they are able, in practicing and studying. For many parents, this can be intimidating — they may harbor some math insecurities themselves, or they may be unfamiliar with new teaching methodologies for math problem-solving. To empower families to help their students with math inside the home, it may be productive to host a math open house night, where parents have the chance to understand the math strategies their children will be using on their homework.

For more on engaging students in math through family communication and in-home practice, read:

#4: Integrate technology to personalize learning

It’s no secret that technology integration can boost engagement in any subject, including math. Technology offers students a chance to work interactively, perhaps through gamification, and offers a fresh change in instructional mediums. When used purposefully, technology can also empower educators to engage students in math through personalization. Advanced adaptive technologies will personalize instruction by learning what a student knows, doesn’t know, and needs to learn next, and presenting them with a learning experience tailored to their pace, skills, and needs.

For more on personalized learning, hear from the experts, including Tom Vander Ark of Getting Smart:

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