Mathematics Pedagogy: Rigor and Engagement
The way we are teaching maths right now is by trying to train human robots. Children are taught to compute by following a set procedure or are asked to memorise maths facts.
But, is this an effective way to teach?
Research argues that traditional teacher-centred instruction isn’t the most effective way to teach maths.
Making Maths Exciting and Fun
It is possible to turn maths into an exciting playful intellectual journey. To do so, we have to understand student motivation. As a part of this motivation, we have to show children the value of learning maths skills.
We can do this when we help students discover concepts in new ways. When we bring out manipulatives and models, we help students discover exactly how different maths operations and concepts function in the concrete world.
Imagine teaching multiplication with Lego bricks! The students can display each multiplication problem with a concrete representation. Instead of an abstract idea, 4 x 3 becomes three different Lego bricks with 4 bumps on each.
Games are another way to bring fun and excitement to the maths classroom. Through games, children can learn concepts in a low-stakes environment. Students can practice multiplication fluency by rolling two dice and multiplying the two numbers that show up. As they play, teachers can encourage children to use number sense to solve for the product. In other words, to solve for 6x9, children might remember that 6x10 is 60 and if they subtract 6, they get the answer which is 54.
Most essentially, we must promote conceptual understanding through these fun maths activities because this will create a positive and self-confident attitude towards maths in students.
Addressing Maths Anxiety
Unfortunately, not all students achieve a positive and self-confident attitude toward maths. In fact, negative feelings toward maths are so common they even have their own name: maths anxiety.
Starting in children as young as 5-years-old, maths anxiety often stems from timed tests, fixed mindsets about maths abilities, and even the teacher’s own maths anxiety. When teachers have maths anxiety, they often pass it on to their students! What’s worse is that, according to studies, maths anxiety “can interrupt working memory, leading to more error-making” which only makes students like maths even less.
Unfortunately, maths anxiety is often addressed poorly by teachers. Teachers often over-protect students and sugar-coat maths, which creates even more maths anxiety in students. When maths is sugar-coated, students understandably believe that maths should be easy. Then, students are discouraged when they discover that maths can be hard.
To improve our response to maths anxiety, teachers can take some of the following steps:
- Fully prepare students with plenty of concrete practice
- Give students lots of time to learn new skills
- Avoid time-pressure situations
- Ask students to write down their answers and discuss the problem before disclosing the answer
- Make maths fun! Allowing students to fail in a friendly game setting helps them to feel comfortable in exploring solutions without getting math anxiety from failure.
- Personalise maths learning
- Teach students to adopt a growth mindset in maths
Teaching with Authenticity to Understand the Value of Maths
Authenticity is very important to make math relevant to the lives of students. In fact, it’s an integral part of student motivation. Without seeing the value of maths in real life, students won’t see the point of making an effort in the subject. Because of this, concepts should be taught in ways that portray real-world applications and not only given abstract problems.
Learning by doing is more effective than passive learning. Activities must be hands-on. Where possible, bringing project-based learning into the maths classroom can be a great opportunity for active learning. These very real-world projects give students the chance to use maths in a meaningful cross-curricular setting. Although it takes more effort to put these units together, they offer many benefits ranging from critical-thinking skills to a deeper understanding of maths concepts.
Solving new problems using techniques that students have acquired is also crucial in mathematics. But, good problems are hard to find. In the world of Google search engines, however, it is possible to find quality problems that both challenge students while also grounding them in reality. Another alternative is digital maths platforms. We’ll explore them in more detail in the next section.
Making the Most of Digital Maths Solutions
Generally, we have to be careful about adding more screen time to kids' lives. Children already spend upwards of 6 hours a day on screens. So we have to make sure that when we add to their screen time it is actually productive.
That being said, digital maths platforms can offer adaptive, personalised learning. Many of the games allow teachers to give out the same activities to their students but with different levels of difficulty so everyone can participate to their own abilities.
Furthermore, high-quality digital maths activities can children achieve a deep conceptual understanding of maths. Perhaps most importantly, excellent maths apps, like Matific, are also fun and help lessen any maths anxieties students may have already acquired.
The power to build mathematical excellence in our students lies within every educator. All we have to do is harness our power to transform maths into an exciting, intellectual journey for our students. How are you transforming maths in your classroom?