When I first share that I am a middle school math teacher, many people respond with the same question... "WHY??" In the American culture, people of all ages proudly proclaim that they just can't do math. It is often more common to be "math illiterate" than to be "math literate." Consequently, math illiteracy has become acceptable. It would be unacceptable to announce, "I just can't read and write." Yet somehow we allow our children to say that they will never be good at math. Students grow up thinking it is "weird" or "nerdy" to enjoy or be good at math. In the end, many people accept the fact that they are born "bad at math," but we cannot allow children to think this way!
Throughout my education, my peers would constantly turn to me for help with math. For some reason, I could always find a way to explain it to them so that it didn't seem so difficult anymore. This made me realize there is great need for math teachers who enjoy helping others understand math and who have the ability to make math simple. Math has always had a stigma attached to it, and my goal as a math teacher is to try to remove this stigma and help students see that math actually makes sense and is an important part of education. I want to help students realize that math is interesting and fun for everyone!
Here are my top 5 practical tips to help students realize that math is for everyone:
1) Be excited about math! Excitement is contagious, just as a lack of excitement is equally contagious. Students quickly respond to a teacher (or parent's) level of excitement. Make sure to show just as much excitement for math as you would for any other subject area.
2) Acknowledge bad experiences with math. Many students can pinpoint a specific time when they started to have negative feelings about math. Acknowledge these experiences, but help the students see that one bad experience with math doesn't have to ruin the rest of their math experiences. Relate it to something that the students can understand. Just because you fall off your bike one time, doesn't mean that you will never have fun riding a bike again. Help the students acknowledge bad experiences, leave them in the past, and start creating new, positive experiences!
3) Validate every student response. Learn how to deal with incorrect answers. Respond with, "That's interesting. How did you arrive at that answer?" Then continue by validating something correct in their thought process or tell them that you like the way they were thinking about that problem. Show students that you will not laugh at them or make them feel bad for a wrong answer.
4) Make mistakes. Develop a system in your classroom where students are rewarded for catching your mistakes. This is a great confidence booster, and it keeps your students on their toes. Students will make many mistakes and become frustrated or want to give up. Show the students that even their math teacher makes mistakes, and demonstrate how to stay calm and fix the mistake without giving up.
5) Let the student be the teacher! One of the most rewarding experiences for a student is to teach. Allow your students to take on some of your roles as the teacher. Give the students a few problems and walk around the room while they try to solve it. Build student confidence by picking a student to go up to the board and show everyone how to correctly complete the problem. Another great way to build student confidence is by allowing students to be a helper. Find a few student who has solved the problem correctly and give them a pen to walk around the room and draw a star on every paper with the correct solution. Graders can also answer questions and help other students. In my classroom, I have special "Ask Me" tags that the helpers get to wear when they walk around the classroom. The students LOVE to pretend to be the teacher and walk around with the special tags.
Click below for a freebie to help you implement this strategy in your classroom: