Math Motivators

Gisele Glosser

From my experience as a math teacher, being a little creative can go a long way in the classroom. Humor and connecting math to the real world also helps. Below are some of my teaching strategies for motivating students to learn. Parents and students may also want to read this article.

Throw Your Paper Airplane!

This is no joke. I once taught a high school geometry class with some tough kids in it. One day, I brought in large colored labels, and had the students move all the desks and chairs to the corners of the room. I placed two long rows of colored labels on the floor. Then I asked the most disruptive student to make and throw a paper airplane, using the labels as a runway for landing it. This was a hands-on lesson on the locus (set) of points equidistant from two parallel lines.

Students Asking for Homework?

Yes, they really did! When teaching a unit on Geometry and Measurement to a seventh grade class, I presented creative, real-world problems at the chalkboard. We solved one problem on area of a circle by standing in a circle with a stick and some string. As I went to assign homework from the textbook, the class eagerly asked if they could create their own problems instead. They were so enthusiastic that I changed the assignment. The next day, the students proudly read their problems aloud --even those who rarely did their homework! The instructional value of this student-created assignment proved to be far more than I had expected!

Facilitating the Need to Learn

After introducing prime and composite numbers through 100, I asked my class to determine if the numbers 517, 623 and 641 were prime or composite. Students groaned about having to find all the factors of these large numbers. I offered to let them use calculators to speed up the process, but they still groaned. Finally, the class asked if there was a a better way to do this. So I introduced divisibility tests, and they were happy to learn this new topic!

Seizing That Teachable Moment

I was in the middle of teaching a math lesson, when a student asked me "When are we ever going to use this math?" He seemed quite serious, so I stopped the lesson, and gave an example of how farmers use systems of linear equations to calculate the costs of cultivating crops. This inspired me to include numerous career connections on my CD.

Letting Your Students Decide

Kids take real ownership when allowed to make decisions. But what decisions can we entrust them with? At the beginning of each marking period, I assign students to cooperative learning groups. I choose the partners for each group, but each group gets to choose a unique group name. Thus, each group has made its first joint decision. For more information and ideas, read my article on Cooperative Learning Techniques.

More Strategies

There are many other ways to motivate students. I like to connect math to the real world, as outlined in my article Math Connections. Being creative and using humor are effective ways to keep students interested. Read Creative Teaching Ideas for more information.

For more teaching strategies and ideas, read our math articles by math educators around the world. Feel free to share your feedback and strategies on Facebook.