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7 Ways to Inspire Students to Love Math

Getting students to love math is a shortcut to their success and to making your life as a teacher easier. It’s true. When students hate math, they also hate learning it, studying it, and doing it. They tend to procrastinate, complain, and give up more easily resulting in them approaching math with an “I can’t do it” attitude. On the other hand, when students love math, they pay more attention, do work more diligently, complain less, and try harder.

So… How can you inspire your students to like, value, and even love math?

While I personally don’t have all the answers, I did ask a few trailblazing teachers for suggestions to help you inspire your students to love math. I was lucky enough to interview these educators on my podcast, Allison Loves Math.

My advice as you read through their suggestions is to look at what you’re already doing in class and build from there. Is there something similar that you’re currently doing that’s working? Then, keep doing it! Is this something you’ve never tried before? Experiment with their suggestions to see what works for you.

Learning how to get your students to like, value, and even love math is a journey that doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s a journey worth making.

Tip #1 Celebrate Student Success

I was honored to interview Rethink Math Teacher’s very own Chris Skierski in the podcast episode Reach Them All with Learning Stations, where we dug deep into his book on Learning Stations. Here’s Chris’s advice on getting students to value and love math:

“Celebrate student success. Don’t just celebrate the big wins, celebrate the small ones. Don’t just celebrate the top students, celebrate all students who make progress.  Every week, we’d play We are the Champions by Queen and have a class graduation (to celebrate students moving up from one learning station to the next). If you want students to love math, I recommend frequent, genuine, consistent acknowledgment of their hard work and progress.”

Chris Skierski, author of Reach Them All

What are some things you can do to recognize student success? What’s a recurring milestone that you can use as a reason to celebrate?

 

Tip #2 Share Your Love of Math.

One of my very first interviews on the Allison Loves Math podcast was A Trailblazer in Math and Soccer with Jo Ann Noyes. Jo Ann is the quintessential math teacher, inspiring not just her students, but other educators like me. Here’s her advice on sharing your own passion with students:

“If the teacher acts and talks like they like math, then the students will be more comfortable looking at math. Share your love and enthusiasm for math. Trust me, it will be contagious.”

Jo Ann Noyes, Adjunct Math Professor at Irvine Valley College

What do you love about the topic you’re teaching? Is it useful in real life? Is it a fun puzzle to figure out? Is it an important foundation for something down the road?

Tip #3 Embrace the Challenge.

Next week, I’ll be interviewing Jennifer Flenner, co-author for the Hypothesis Testing Survival Guide (coming Spring 2021), about setting statistics students up for success. Here’s her advice on inspiring math students, especially those studying Statistics:

“Embrace the challenge. Math is hard, but so often students sit around hoping their teacher, tutor, or someone will make it easier. Remind your students that a good solution is a process, not a number, and you aren’t expected to have every part of your solution in perfect form the first time through.  The best solution takes time and will have multiple forms of expression: the ideal solution starts with an outline, followed by a rough draft and ends with a final set of revisions – just like an English paper. Math is a language and it takes practice to master the art of telling a mathematical story.”

Jennifer Flenner, co-author The Hypothesis Testing Survival Guide

What is the hardest part of an upcoming lesson? What can you say to encourage students to acknowledge and embrace the difficulty they’re facing? How might you inspire them to want to learn how to face challenges?

 

Tip #4  Make your classroom a safe place.

When I interviewed Brent Monte, co-chair of the Math Department at Irvine Valley College, we tackled a topic that he’s well known for: How to Engage and Motivate Math Students. Here is his advice:

“The most important thing is to make your class a place where the student wants to be. Our job is to make the class a safe place, where students can ask questions, make mistakes, and learn without feeling stupid or judged. Start with getting students to feel safe, listened to, and supported, then the rest will follow.”

Brent Monte, Co-Chair of Mathematics at Irvine Valley College

What are moments where you may have made students not feel listened to or supported? What could you do or say differently next time?

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Tip #5 Add a Meaningful Context.

One of my very first interviews was with Maria Ryan, a professor at Mary Immaculate College with a PhD in Math Anxiety. We talked about her research and experiences helping students to stop fearing math in the episode How to Combat Math Anxiety. Here’s her advice, with a focus on learners facing math anxiety:

“The context for math teaching and learning is very important. If the question is presented within a meaningful context, it can make much more sense to the learner. This can be challenging with more abstract math concepts. However, the awareness of and resourcefulness of the teacher in respect of the difficulties such abstract topics might present is central to counteracting the onset of negative feelings and even anxiety towards math among the learner.”

Maria Ryan, PhD Math Anxiety and Professor at Mary Immaculate College

Which topics tend to cause students the most math anxiety? How might you introduce those concepts with students’ math anxiety in mind?

 

Tip #6 Flip the Script

I recently was able to interview Melissa Dean, math disrupter and infamous blogger at Dean of Math, in the episodeRadically Reimagine Your Math Class. Here’s Melissa’s advice on getting your students to love math through challenges and exploration:

“As the teacher you have the power to flip the script of what mathematics is in your classroom. Don’t give away the ending of the story; present concepts and ideas as a puzzle to be solved. Don’t tell them the concept or the strategy to use, rather present opportunities to discover, to explore a problem BEFORE teaching the steps or concepts. We so often present math as history — it’s all been discovered; rather, let’s present math as play and let kids mess around with the numbers and ideas. Then, after that, we can help them put a framework around it. 

Melissa Dean, blogger at Dean of Math

What is an upcoming topic where you can have students explore and discover? How might you introduce students to exploration and discovery? What will you say if they fight back against it?

Tip #7 Let students ask questions.

When I interviewed the author of Instant Relevance, Denis Sheeran, he gave some great tips for helping teachers to replace unrelatable math questions with examples that are authentically relevant. As described in the episode Making Math Instantly Relevant, his advice for inspiring your students to love math is:

“Kids love math when they get to answer THEIR OWN questions. If I ask some kids to find the volume of a shape I think is cool, they might do it, but they won’t care. If they saw a cool shape in real life and wondered what it was made of or how heavy it was…those are the launchpads for their questions and in turn, the stepping stones to their learning. Find a way to let that happen more, then extract the math from that experience and show them what they’ve just done.”

Denis Sheeran, author of Instant Relevance

What is something you’ve done to encourage students to share aspects of math that they find fascinating? How might you start and encourage that dialogue?

 

Conclusion

As you experiment with different ways to inspire your students to love math, remember that the first time you try anything new, it’s likely to make you nervous or uncomfortable. The fact that you’re facing uncertainty is a good thing. It’s a sign that you’re trying new things, growing as an educator, and making progress towards inspiring your students to love, try harder at, and succeed in math.

I invite you to download my Inspire Your Students to Love Math Quickstart Guide and listen to the Allison Loves Math Podcast.

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