Skip to main content

How to get students excited about math

WEDNESDAY, MAY 07, 2014 10:17 AM

Mathematics is a challenging subject to teach because many students don't enjoy it. Educators may find that their classes can garner some fulfillment out of reading Shakespeare (a challenging endeavor in and of itself), but only about half of students feel excitement while dealing with proofs. In fact, according to results from the latest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), only about 50 percent of students in the U.S. agreed that they were interested in learning math. That's slightly less than the international average of 53 percent. But that doesn't mean the numbers can't change or that students won't get excited about the subject.

American students, on average, perform at a mid level when it comes to math, reflecting national excitement. PISA assesses students from around the world who are between the ages of 15 years and 3 months and 16 years and 2 months. It also compiles data in financial educational spending across the globe, stacking all that information into a report that's published every three years. The most recent results showed that the U.S. has not improved it's mathematics performance in years, though the numbers haven't gotten worse. Countries that were behind the U.S. at one point have now surpassed it in multiple subjects, including math. 

Such results have prompted changes to the educational infrastructure in the U.S., such as the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, which 44 states have now adopted. But getting students excited about mathematics and other challenging subjects is still in the hands of teachers. So how can educators increase their students' enthusiasm? While the answer won't be the same for everyone, you might find some inspiration from these ideas:

Create hands-on activities
Standing before the class and showing them equations is one thing, but giving students an opportunity to explore the ideas presented therein creates lasting connections. If students can show and explain their work, you know the concepts you shared are sinking in. Hands-on learning utilizes that idea by giving students a fun activity (that may or may not look like math) to complete. 

For example, according to Upworthy, a math teacher from Pennsylvania used a puzzle to teach his students about permutations (the arranging and rearranging of pieces of a set in a certain order). He brought a train puzzle to class that had a caboose, an engine and 10 cars. Each piece was double-sided. He asked his students to use permutation to figure out how many ways the train could be arranged. The students were engaged in the lesson, working in teams to solve the problem (the answer was over 19 million). 

Be on the lookout for fun ways to incorporate hands-on activities into your lessons. Whether you find a kids' puzzle at a toy store or apply math to their favorite pop star's record statistics, your students are more likely to want to learn (or feel excitement toward the idea of learning) when they are engaged.

Consider using props
Some teachers find that adding props to their mathematics lessons helps the students better understand the content. You can grab your coffee mug, Post-it notes, pencils, etc., and turn them into teaching tools. Explain fractions using a set of pencils - the set is the whole and each pencil is a part of the whole. Mess around with objects at home and brainstorm ways they can fit into your lessons. You may also ask students to come forward and demonstrate ideas using the props. This will help you evaluate how well the class is absorbing the material. The more students interact, the better your chances of getting them excited.

Be an example
Students can tell when a teacher cares about their subject. When you're enthusiastic about math, your class is more likely to follow suit. Bring energy to school every day and share interesting math news. Look for opportunities to celebrate mathematics. For example, you can make a big deal out of Pi day (which is March 14). Some teachers wear Pi shirts while others bake tasty desserts that share the namesake.