Useful tips to help young students engage with mathematics
30th April 2019
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It is a fact that, as students, we excel in subjects that we enjoy - seeing a subject as fascinating and exhilarating makes us engage in it and awakens our curiosity of learning. Research findings suggest that when students are actively involved in the learning process, it increases learning and persistence, and it leads to higher grades and more active and thorough questioning (Felder, 1992; Bonwell & Eison, 1991). That particularly applies for subjects that are more challenging in terms of motivation, and mathematics has traditionally fallen into that category.

Finding non-conventional ways of motivating students to engage with mathematics has proven to have a great impact on student engagement and achievement. In fact, a 2009 Gallup poll in the US found that a one percent increase in student engagement resulted in an eight percent increase in mathematics achievement.

Also, if we want our students to do well in mathematics, they need to see the practicality of it, the way it affects everyday life and can even help to change the world in which we live. So, what can we do to increase the likelihood to engage students in this difficult but exciting subject? Here are some tips:


Active learning and use of recreational activities

Any learning process that provides activity unavoidably requires more engagement and can act as an instant source of energy, especially at a younger age.

Take for example the approach by Montessori to mathematics. This educational method supports the notion that because math is an abstract concept, if we want young students to easily acquire and fully assimilate those concepts, we need to put them into a concrete material (i.e. the Montessori golden bead). It is what we widely known as recreational mathematics, which involves the use of puzzles, games, magic, art, riddles, music, etc. For example, dice can be used to practice order of operations or use common objects to represent figures when practicing problem solving.

The pedagogic value of recreational mathematics is widely recognised, and by adding fun and imagination to the subject, we can even help to improve engagement and results from the low achievers, since it helps removing the fear from their minds towards the subject. 


Use of technology

Technology is very engaging for most students, so incorporating technology in the classroom can encourage student participation.

For instance, it has been scientifically proven that the use of a maths calculator expands the capacity to invoke mental processes which otherwise may not be as easy to engage in. Research also suggests that when maths calculators are used to engage students in mathematical reasoning and problem solving, they learn and perform better.


High-level problems to encourage motivation

If tasks that we present to students are too low-level or boring it can put them off the subject, so providing high-level problems can act as an incentive for engagement. Which leads us to the next point about resilience and frustration in the learning process.


Teach them to be resilient but avoid frustration

When students are struggling with mathematical content, we should encourage them not to give up. It is essential that they understand that productive struggle is a natural part of learning, that mistakes help us learn, even more than correct answers do. However, we should make sure that that struggle never ends up in frustration. Productive struggle is motivating and engaging, whereas frustration is not.

About the Author

Iñigo Etxebeste

Member since: 31st January 2019

Iñigo is a London-based digital copywriter passionate about the new technologies and the online universe. He spends his time writing about the topics he loves, travelling as much as he can and playing...

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