5 Ways To Make Math Fun For Students

It’s no secret that many kids don’t consider math to be their favorite subject. Luckily, there are methods available to make math fun for students. Here are 5 ideas to make math fun.

1. Create a different grading system. There are alternatives to letter grades, of course. Part of the issue with math for students is that, due to it’s binary, yes or no, right or wrong system. However, that doesn’t mean your grading system has to be that way. Do we want students’ grades more or less mirror how accurate they are in solving math problems? That doesn’t seem like our best thinking. However you approach it, make progress visible and clear so that the grades and ‘points’ motivate students instead of discouraging them. All progress is good no more how slight or incremental. Consider additive grading, for starters. 

2. Teach like a lifeguard. In swim class when you were a little kid, you let that one lifeguard throw you in the deep end of the pool. He’d let you struggle when you were capable, but you knew he’d fish you out if you were in real trouble. Students need to know that they can visibly struggle with mathematics and that you’ll let them go at it as long as they need to. They also need to know that you’ll throw them a lifeline if their group is lost at sea. Do what you can to find the balance.

3. Promote learning through play. Students are adept at following rules, but they are often even more adept at blurring the lines. Learning through play at school can be an act of mild rebellion or it can be intrinsic to a learning environment that is designed to engage the voracious appetites of young minds. Once you allow students to engage more freely, the classroom can be a more productive yet more chaotic place. The usual distractions still interrupt work flow, but when group work is working, students take more responsibility for maintaining the work culture, and conversation and invention are steered toward productive ends.

4. Gamify it. Leaderboards, points for individual accomplishments, levels, engaging challenges, additive grading – whatever your approach is to gamification in your math classroom, the goal is intentional encouragement mechanics with clear goals and rewards. IXL is a platform that provides specific badges/ribbons for individual accomplishments that students can use to ‘check off’ specific skills and ‘complete’ the curriculum. Used well, it can motivate students otherwise hesitant to engage in math lessons.

Game-based learning is also an option, where students use actual games to learn. There are countless engaging math apps, from ABCmouse and Prodigy to Kahoot, Sudoku, and Socratic by Google, that help students practice math concepts and skills through a game. You could also try team-building games that use math like count to ten or even bring math to a game not expressly designed for teaching and learning math. 

5. Make it real. Start with interesting questions: How much taller is a human compared to a carpenter ant? How much faster can a sailboat go if you double its length? How many trees per person are there in the world? If you flip two coins, are you more likely to get two heads or one head and one tail? If you double the radius of a pizza, how much more food do you get? What function is the best model for a car accelerating from a stop light, and why? Can you figure out the percentage of green m and m’s in the world from one bag? Should I spend this money? What’s the most likely outcome for a given scenario?

Every student has an innate curiosity about how the world is put together. It can seem that the abstractions of algebra are outside daily experience, and yet there are ample opportunities to draw numbers from the real-world and spark excitement. The above questions can springboard into deep conversations about math exponential notation, square root functions, probability, area, quadratic functions, sampling and any other math concept. You can also use ‘real world’ athletes, entertainers, language, music, news and events, etc–whatever brings ‘out there’ into the classroom.

Making math real can also help make math fun. Thinking of it as a kind of language that you can use to make sense of the world around you is a critical shift. Once this happens, practical applications of math concepts–to calculate probability, understand money and risk, process data, and think critically become more natural for students in your classroom.

Allison Green
Boston Tutoring Services

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