No Math = No Fun
Know Math = Know Fun!
Math has a special kind of beauty and appeal to the person who is willing to look. Yet we know there are students who don’t know how to look, and there are students who look and are unable to see. There are also students who don’t want to look because they think they don’t like math or won’t “be good at it.” It can certainly be hard to help all students see math as interesting and approachable, but if we can shift our students’ perspectives, we can make a big difference.
Before you design ways to motivate and inspire your students to like and do math, you have to consider your own perspective on mathematics. What does mathematics mean to you? What appeals to you about mathematics? When is doing math fun for you?
To me, math is patterns, puzzles, and polygons. It’s the path of a ping-pong ball and the structure of a palace. Math is a model of the moon that we can study. Math is really big and really small. It’s interconnected. It’s practical. It’s fun. The power of math is seen in objects around us, processes, and predictions. Without math we wouldn’t have efficiency, production, and invention.
Ask your students, What does mathematics mean to you? What appeals to you about math? When is doing math fun for you? What they say and how they say it brings awareness, and from there you can take action.
Here are several steps you can take to promote new and different ways for your students to see math and to have fun doing math. Let’s get all kids to look at math with interest and enthusiasm!
1: Promote curiosity about how the world works.
Start a list of students’ curiosities. Record questions, confusions, and criticisms. Ask and explore real world situations: What math is relevant here? How might some aspect of mathematics help us understand and describe this situation? Can math help us determine ways to change or improve this situation?
2: Ask students to stop and really look at ordinary objects and events around them.
Take time to notice details. Look for structure. What are the parts of that ordinary object? Look for patterns, relationships, and magnitude. What grows? What shrinks? What repeats? How is this connected to that? What features of objects are measurable? Mathematical ideas are revealed when we look more and see more.
3: Tell your students the story of mathematics. Think characters, setting, plot.
Help students make sense of the origins and evolution of mathematical ideas. Who wanted to know what? Why? Who did what? What happened as a result? The interaction between mathematical thinking and human activity is incredible! Push students to make connections between the past and the present. Use the story of mathematics to help them think about the future.
I have used the ideas above in my own classrooms with students in kindergarten and students in college. I think they’re powerful and exciting. They increased engagement and productivity in my classroom, and led to some of the most interesting learning experiences I ever had as a teacher.
If these ideas are interesting to you, have fun and try them out! Ask those questions. Explore and learn with your students, and share your thoughts and reactions in the comment section below.
The main idea in this blog is inspired by the work and writing of Harold R. Jacobs. For more information, check out his book, Mathematics: A Human Endeavor.
Some other ideas in this blog are inspired by the work and writing of G. Polya. For more information, check out his book, How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method.
For additional ideas and materials on this topic, check out
Mathematics: What’s the Big Idea? This video workshop offers motivation and tools for K-8 teachers who want to explore ways of changing how they teach math.
Teaching Math Libraries, K-4, 5-8, and 9-12 These video programs demonstrate how teachers guide and assess student understanding, and offer strategies for keeping students motivated and engaged.