Without mathematics, there’s nothing you can do. Everything around you is mathematics. Everything around you is numbers. – Shakuntala Devi
I had no personal life during my first two years of teaching. I taught math in the first four years of my teaching career. It was no easy pie, or in Nigerian parlance, it wasn’t moi moi.
Between covering all the state standards, preparing students for tests that were dictated as mandatory by the State – involving actual testing, conducting data analyses of students’ learning and evaluating my progress as an educator, also providing evidence for evaluations and taking courses for my certificate as a bilingual educator, I was swamped with work. I was juggling so many balls, and I simply crashed on my bed fully clothed most nights when I got back home.
The list above doesn’t even include the prep work I had to do in putting lessons together; lesson plans; and assembling teaching aids to supplement my lessons.
Throw in to the mix the fact that I taught mathematics and all schools pay attention to the data of their students on maths tests, and it would be clear that I lived a pressure cooker life. A lot of my students rarely found math interesting and engaging. I had no choice but to device strategies and methods to overcoming the stigma and dread that they had towards math, while still covering the standards and adhering to all the mandates of education then.
I used five methods to achieve these aims.
1. Enabling Students to Be Curious
More often than that not, we use the traditional method of showing students procedures and then get them to reiterate the steps in order to show their understanding through a correct answer.
This couldn’t work when the tide shifted in the desire for more student engagement. Besides, I have never enjoyed teaching students who just stare at me, either with boredom or befuddlement. It is not easy to engage students in math. A part of this, of course, is making problems relevant or connecting them to the real world. The real clincher is in providing opportunities for students to authentically inquire.
Allow students to ask questions. Get them to think mathematically about things. For example, if I put a picture of a triangular prism on the board with no text or dimensions shown, I can ask students to create questions that could be answered based on that figure.
Why I love this so much is that, normally we tell students what this is and give them dimensions. The real deal is that in the real world, mathematicians question, guess, and make their work more precise based on feedback from their questions and guesses. It is our job as teachers to provide students opportunities to be mathematicians, not just computers.
2. Math Music Videos
I learnt about the power of music when I taught middle school. I allowed my students to solve problems while music was playing. We played my music and theirs. We created mnemonic songs derived from formulas and it got all of us excited about topics or ideas within math. Back then, we made short audio clips, and if I had the chance now, I’d consider making music videos of us reciting those mnemonics, et al.
What we did was that we found popular songs and changed their lyrics to cover topics like pi, trigonometry functions, or students and math. Then we recorded them while singing and poking fun at our endeavour. We had so much fun doing this. This was more to help students with the recollection of facts, and not in understanding . What is relevant here though is that I had all of my students involved in these projects. They were always excited when it came to time for us to create these clips.
3. Building a Growth Mindset
A lot of our students loathe math because they have a fixed mindset. It’s important for teachers (and parents) to know the positive norms to encourage when it comes to math. Give our students the gift of being made to understand that mistakes are part of the learning process and that speed does not determine intelligence. With this we eliminated the obstacles that prevent students from enjoying their math lessons.
4. Many Roads to the Market Analogy
More often than not, most math teachers show a single method as the way to solve a problem and require students to solve it using that method and no other method. This approach is defeatist in enabling students to truly grasp math. We ought to emphasise that just as there are many ways to get a destination, so is it with math. We should teach our students multiple ways to arrive at the answer, based on their different interests and aptitudes, and encourage them to come up with their own creative ways to solving problems. Beyond this, should they discover a method of their own, allow them to test it out inversely – working backwards to ensure that their solutions always work.
Giving students this opportunity helps motivate them and increases their creativity and problem-solving skills.
5. Collaborate and Grow With Supportive Networks
Finding initiatives that are supportive of the desire to enable students have joyful and engaging math lessons and experiences are critical. Search for them on social media. My desire is to help students appreciate and love mathematics.
Help spread the passion for maths to our students, and lead them to find the love and beauty in mathematics.
Help us with our mission to bring about change for our students. Please contact me to see what we can do to bring about the desired transformation that we all desire for our children to be future ready!!!
Adetola Salau; Educator / Speaker / Author/ Social Entrepreneur / Innovator
She is an Advocate of STEM Education and is Passionate about Education reform. She is an innovative thinker and strives for our society & continent as a whole to reclaim it’s greatness. She runs an educational foundation with the mission to transform education.