Ways to hook kids with math
Over the last few weeks I’ve been involved in facilitating a 5 part math-lesson study. This exciting event involves 22 local math teachers working through open-ended math problems first as learners themselves and then with their students. There’s been some great discussion so a far – and one of the coolest things is how the teachers are starting to videotape their teaching, interview students about their learning and openly share their teaching with other educators. The idea for this initiative comes from the work of the Galileo Educational Network.
Throughout this process we have continually circled over tips that help students enter into a math problem with greater gusto. A number of suggestions have emerged:
1. Don’t start with the Math. The teachers have discussed how many students shut down if you start with the math. Rather than introducing formulas, vocabulary terms, and numbers, start with problems, puzzles, and situations. Rather than using the problem to practice math – introduce a problem that requires math to solve it.
2. Try to avoid text-only problems. Some students struggle to start a math problem because of difficulties with langauge. Where possible, start with images, videos, manipulates or hands-on introductions to the math. Chunking out the sub-questions or giving them one at a time isn’t really a solution – find ways to get rid of the written language completely. Dan Meyer‘s name has come up many times as the master of this.
3. Tie the math to a context students understand. Students are able to enter into the math more easily if it’s a context that they understand. This could be a topic that they personally have background knowledge about – or it could be embedding math into another topics they’ve been exploring. That way they are not trying to understand the vocabulary of the context and work through the math at the same time. As an example, check out this how this great question embedded math into a science project students were already invested in.
4. Have students create predictions. One of the simplest ways to get students invested in a problem is to have them make predictions. Ideally the problem is one that allows predictions to be made. For example, one of the math teachers at my school recently started a study by having students estimate the perimeter of Alberta. Putting sticky notes on the board mean every kid is invested because their answer is out in the world.
5. Use problems where the situation provides feedback. The best math problems don’t require students to ask teachers if they are right, but uses the problem themselves to give feedback. For example, students trying to move from counting how many toothpicks make up a shape to developing a formula to do the same can always go back and count toothpick as a way to run tests on their formulas. The question should create test cases for the student-generated ideas.