Teaching high school math is no easy feat. Stress factors such as students’ math phobia and anxiety, gaps in math skills, and stress associated with adapting to the technological environment have considerably impacted students’ and educators’ physical, emotional, and mental health.
Reflecting on teaching my math students, I focus on the question “Why do I want to teach?” to inspire and motivate my students to share my passion for math. Here are five strategies I’ve used to encourage students to learn math more effectively in our classroom.
1. TRANSFORMATIONAL TEACHING
Teaching has the potential to transform the lives of students as they look for opportunities for growth. This transformation happens in my classroom when my students feel less anxious about math and more excited to explore concepts by connecting them to real-life situations. Using hands-on activities and experiential learning to engage with my students, I encourage them to collaborate with their peers, build their math skills, and think more critically about what they’ve learned.
When my students were learning about finance, interest, and percentage, for example, I designed a project where my budding entrepreneurs would work on a dream project, like starting a car garage, a restaurant, or a gym. First, the students wrote a proposal for a project to consider the loan they needed for it, the interest they would be paying, and how long it would take to make a profit.
It was interesting to note how they created models and worked on mathematical calculations to finance their project. I also learned several ways to present finances and appreciated the strategies that students came up with to make a profit as soon as possible. At the end of the project, the whole class celebrated the accomplishment of the task with a pizza party.
2. ENGAGE AND ENCOURAGE
Students are always looking to be inspired to reach their fullest potential and achieve their learning goals. I use visual aids and activities to differentiate individual student needs and encourage student choices to show their understanding. I use graphic organizers such as KWL charts to create a visual of what we are about to learn, making connections with prior knowledge to current learning and outcomes. Students also utilize the Frayer Model to reinforce key ideas about a concept, such as slope, by defining it and sharing ways to calculate it.
Fridays are extra-fun in my classroom, where my students are engaged in exploration and rigor with creative problem-solving. Making learning relevant and building connections help me create an environment where my students feel inspired to express their thinking and participate by sharing their ideas openly.
I use discussions in my classroom to explore math concepts and understand my students’ interests. During one of those conversations, I had a group of students who shared their interest in baseball. With the help of my peers, I was able to arrange a field trip for my students to watch a baseball game. This special Math Day included presentations from several speakers in the sports industry showcasing how math is used everywhere in professional baseball, from the pitcher’s average, statistics behind the quality of the pitcher, to the dimensions of the field.
The students enjoyed the whole experience and got a taste of how they could connect their math learning with baseball. Students build positive relationships through the activities that interest them and help them collaborate, feel respected, and participate without the fear of put-downs.
3. ACKNOWLEDGE AND BE AWARE
Building on students’ strengths and working on their weaknesses help create an awareness of where my students are and what they need to do to improve. My math classroom relies on learning from making mistakes and falling forward. I use falling forward as one of the strategies from the SAFE framework that I have designed and introduced in a previous article.
As we explore a new concept, I explain that making mistakes is a critical milestone to deeper understanding. I model failure, turn it into a teachable moment about the value of making mistakes, and benefit from a constructive discussion to allow students to learn from this. It is vital for us, as educators, to show our students that when we are learning something new, it is OK to struggle, fail, try again, fail again, and then succeed. I use positive feedback, praise, and compliments to encourage my students to try something challenging. It is always amazing to see the “aha” moments that the students get when they acknowledge and become aware of problems and how to solve them.
4. COLLABORATE AND CONNECT
I use cooperative learning tools to foster tolerance, develop communication skills, and promote deeper understanding, such as mixing diverse learners in small groups. I pay close attention when I set up groups and guide students to understand their responsibilities, learn from their peers, and treat their peers with respect and fairness.
I used the strategy called “Try It, Talk It, Color It, Check It” to do a unit review where students first tried some problems, discussed them in breakout rooms, then used a Padlet to share their work. Students were engaged and worked together to solve problems. Math scavenger hunts are a fun and exciting game to play to explore a concept more deeply.
5. HOLD STUDENTS ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR SUCCESS
Student accountability matters even more now with remote education, as they need to be self-motivated and responsible for their learning. I focus on building social and emotional tools in my classroom using the Heartfulness approach to create a culture of trust and positivity. These tools help develop students’ self-esteem and confidence and prepare them to take risks in creative problem-solving.
Students receive a weekly checklist with clear expectations and learning goals. I collect student surveys to get feedback and learn how to best support my students’ diverse needs. I use self-reflection to allow my students to assess their progress, reflect on their learning, and seek supporting tools to improve their understanding.
The essential components of excellence in teaching math include being flexible, developing creativity, encouraging fun, and providing an engaging environment that connects learning to real-world meaning. Then every student will love to dream big and be a lifelong learner.
By Ranjani Iyer