Many students appear to have definitive opinions about mathematics. Students often proudly declare, “I hate math,” or even worse, “I can’t do math.” Would they use the same tone to announce, “I am illiterate”? The teaching of mathematics has changed over the years to include concepts that allow for more creativity and the use of advanced technologies which involve a more hands-on approach. Motivating math students takes a bit of work and ingenuity.
Motivate students using rewards that are related to the concepts on which they are attempting. For example, award computer time based on understanding time: If the teacher gives you 10 minutes of computer time, what fraction of an hour is that? How many degrees in a circle is that? What time will you be finished on the computer if you start at a certain time? How many students will be able to earn computer time in a class period if each gets ten minutes? Students will become interested if a) concepts are applied to their interests and b) if there is something in it for them; sometimes this is not evident, but some students are able to think in the long term about the benefits of their education, while others need more immediate gratification.
Keeping students motivated by interesting them is possible if the teacher plans out activities that are fun and again, applicable. For example, suppose a teacher was teaching about fractions and leading up to ratio and proportion. Use food to motivate. Bring in a square, rectangular, or circular baked item (and since schools today are rather health conscious, maybe a carrot cake or zucchini bread may be acceptable — but remember to hold off on the nuts due to allergies.). Students can practice portioning out equivalent amounts in a variety of ways. Advanced students can practice scaling the recipe up or down to serve different amounts of people. Use calculators to cut down on the tedious calculations and concentrate on the method.
Engaging students in social situations can improve the atmosphere of the classroom as well. Attempting to keep today’s students in their seats and lecturing to them is not productive. Today’s classroom is a diverse “garden” of students with a variety of needs and learning styles. Having a classroom in which students are up and conversing does not mean a loss of control of the classroom, a situation that teachers dread (some of the old school principals need to be noting that last statement—discussion amongst students is a wonderful thing; teachers should be facilitating these discussions by making certain students are on track). Explain the rules of working in groups and reinforce positive behaviors.