Friday, November 16, 2012

10 Ways To Make Your Math Class More Fun

I often get emails from educators asking how they can make their math class more fun. My normal suggestion is relocate your class to Toys-R-Us, but, alas, if this option is not available, here are at least some suggestions.

1) Mini Lessons:

Divide the total number of minutes you are in class by 5; this is how many lessons you should aim for. Thus, a 60 minute class should have approximately 12 lessons. For example, a 12-part mini-lesson class about fractions may look something like this.

  • Mini-Lesson 1: Warm-up by asking what the class would rather have 2/3 of a pizza or 6/7, why?

  • Mini-Lesson 2: Draw two circles, one with three parts, one with seven parts, and shade them. Then ask the same question as before and see if their answers differ

  • Mini-Lesson 3: Have students label each part of their circle 2/3 or 2/7 and cut out each piece

  • Mini-Lesson 4: Pair-up and have one student give their partner 1/3 of one pizza and 4/7 of the other. Have the other student give their partner 2/3 of one pizza and 2/7 of the other and then have them compare who has more pizza

  • Mini-Lesson 5: Have all students return to their seat and close their eyes. Read two fractions aloud and ask them to raise their hand for the one they think is larger. Tally up the results and place them on the board. Do it again for another two fractions.

  • Mini-lesson 6: Using the previous examples, show why one is larger than the other

  • Mini-lesson 7: Discuss how knowing this might help them in real life, ask for their input

  • Mini-lesson 8: Have your class form a circle while holding hands with you in the middle. Show them how ½ a circle is different from 1/3, ¼, or 1/5 by standing in the middle and extending two tape measures

  • Mini-lesson 9: While still holding hands, take turns asking the students to guess different fraction sizes by reading out each others names “1/3 would be from Julie to Charlie, ¼ From Julie to Jamie, etc”

  • ---I could go on forever but you get the point
Keeping it short will hold your students attention.

2) Get Them Out Of Their Seat:

Sitting for an hour straight is hard for me and I'm a 32 year-old man. In kid-time that's even longer. Switch it up! Form a circle like you did for story time in elementary school. Let them spread out on the floor. Turn out the lights and give them flashlights to do their worksheets. Sound dumb? Not as dumb as the expectation of having kids be attentive while seated for an hour.

3) Art:

Using art is a great way to illustrate word-problems. In fact, have your students draw pictures before answering any problem and see how much more attentive they are to the solution. Example, asking 5 x 3? Ask them to draw 5 apples, then another 5 apples, then another 5 apples.

4) Legos:

Using just a few Lego pieces will allow you to teach almost any concept. You could calculate volume, area, build polygons, build irregular shapes, calculate ratios, probabilities of one color, etc, etc.

5) Posters:

Got some boring definitions you need your students to learn? Have them create a poster. Better yet, tell them they are opening up a store and their only item for sale is this definition and therefore they need a sales-poster!

6) Group Work:

Group work can be a great learning tool. However, it's often barely used or underused. You need to be specific about what you want each member of the group to contribute. Solving an equation? Assign each member a task. Person A can only combine like terms, person B can only add or subtract, etc.

7) Less Problems & More Mastery:

Two awesomely thought-out problems are worth more than an entire worksheet of drill. There may be a time for lots of problems, for example the multiplication tables, but these are few and far between. Using just two problems will allow you to create content. Make your students value to the solution by actually creating a problem they would want solved. For example, why would the death/kill ratio be a better indicator a players skill in Call of Duty than simply number of kills? Or, the most text messages ever sent in a day is ____ what would their cell phone bill be if they had to pay 0.03 per text? Lets create an equation and solve it.

8) Homework Should Be Short and Sweet:

I hate the idea of homework. I hate the idea of taking time away from family and friends to do busy work. If you must use homework make it something really fun. Have them explain to their parents over dinner how a mathematician won $100,000 for finding the next largest prime number and if their parents can't remember a prime number have them explain it to them. Have them research the largest number they can find and bring it back with them the next day for you to write in scientific notation. Give them an equation to solve and ask them to draw a picture of a guy drawing a picture of a guy solving it...I don't know! Just give them something fun

9) Use Your Calculator:

I know our establishment is anti-calculator but I assure you this, my two home-schooled boys will not be doing silly math problems by hand, I don't even care if they know their multiplication tables. I will put a calculator in their pocket and we will go outside and shoot bottle rockets to discuss math. My suggestion is thus, let the calculator do more of the tedious work and use your skill as an educator to concentrate on the why questions.

10) Use Math Stories, Math Trivia or Riddles

We all love a good story or a good riddle. Take some time to discuss how math is used today or how battles were won due to a generals mastery of mathematics, etc. Post weekly riddles or obscure equations on your walls. Tell them stories about quirky mathematical geniuses of the past. Find ways to peak their interest in the subject.


Just Another Thought Online said...

I like many of your suggestions, but as a high school math teacher.I can tell you the statement, "I don't even care if they know their multiplication tables" scares me. Here's why. My students came from parents or schools that thought mastering basic skills wasn't all that important and that calculators should be used for "silly math problems" to save time. The problem now is that since they lack the skills to quickly and confidently multiply, divide, add, and subtract it takes away from their ability to understand concepts now.

I have to spend a significant amount of time with students in and out of class helping them learn skills which they should have known in elementary school. Students who struggle because of this misguided choice by earlier educators (be it parents or elementary schools) now tell me they think they are bad at math, and even sometimes they tell me that they are stupid. They are not stupid, they just had the misfortune of adults who didn't understand the long-term impact they were making by not giving a solid basis in fundamental skills.

If a student doesn't understand multiplication and division and they don't know that 6X8=48 how are they going to solve an equation? How will they be able to factor a polynomial? How are they going to conceptually progress from these skills (which are the gateways to understanding the behavior of functions and essential to moving onto higher levels of mathematics like calculus)?

Conceptual learning is very important and I commend you for spending time on this, but so is mastery of basic skills! If you think memorization of tables is boring turn it into a game or a race.

Jeremiah Dyke said...

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my post and your concerns are well noted. I invite you to read my latest publication about calculators before we open up a dialog

Likely your opinions will be tested but try to keep an open mind and I look forward hearing from you.

Steve McCrea, Independent Educator said...

I like using these techniques.

Dfenno said...

I like your ideas and might start 'Mini Lesson Mondays'

trickpony said...

I agree with this 100%. Not knowing multiplication/division facts is a huge disservice. Math class for kids without facts is unreasonably difficult, frustrating, and leads them to believe they "aren't good at math", when the truth is they don't have the foundation to learn advanced content. Good article, but as a math teacher I stand behind this critique.

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