Motivating optimal performance in math begins with explaining to students the importance and relevance of having a strong mathematical foundation. If students do not understand why math is important to their overall development and future, many will consider their math classes nothing more than a class they need to earn an A in, or a class that requires them to do an hour of homework each evening. “Why,” many students wonder, “do I have to take math when I have little interest in it and what they teach me will be of no use to me in my future career?”
Math is not just for those who aspire to become mathematicians. Math is crucial to the development of all young minds. All forms of mathematics challenge students to think critically and logically. While solving problems is a measure of whether students are following proper sequencing, the thought process, rather than the ultimate answer, exercises and trains young minds to think logically.
Such is our mission at Crane. Beyond stressing the conceptual benefits of math, we strive to make our math classes relevant, fun and engaging. Whenever possible, we link math to current events and activities. When students see how math connects to the world around them, a sense of relevance and acceptance tends to follow.
Consider these suggestions to support mathematical thinking, comfort, and success:
- Preschool - Start by having children notice quantity amounts to help with number sense. This can be done when out on a walk, or at home during snack time. Questions might include, “Which side of the street has more houses” or “Which pile has fewer goldfish?” Follow up by asking how the answer was reached. Having early-in-life conversations help pre-school children notice quantities and numbers in their everyday life.
- Elementary School - Play games and add a little math twist to them! Board games, cards and dice are excellent tools. Ask questions like, “How many spaces away is the next red square,” or “What is the chance you draw a king out of the deck of cards?” With dice have kids roll and then add or multiply the total; then see who can get to 50 the fastest.
- Middle School - Use math to help children develop useful life skills. Have them calculate the tip on a restaurant bill or estimate how much it will cost to fill up your car with gas (assuming they know the price/gallon and how many gallons the car holds. Make it fun! Offer a special treat for the one who guesses the total bill, to the closest dollar, while shopping.
In the words of the famous Indian mathematician, Shakuntala Devi, “Without mathematics, there’s nothing you can do. Everything around you is mathematics. Everything around you is numbers.” We best serve our children if we repeatedly remind them of this and, in so doing, engage them in fun exercises and challenges which will orient their minds toward mathematical thinking on a daily basis.
Upper School Math Teacher & Eighth Grade Dean