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Easy Steps You Can Take to Help Students Appreciate Math

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Math is one of those subjects that students seem to love or hate. Even if your students dislike math, there are some easy steps you can take to help them appreciate math and understand why we teach it.

Show Students How to Appreciate Math

'When am I ever going to need this?' is a question you hear often as a teacher, but you probably hear it a bit more when you bring up the subject of math. If students don't already love math, it can be especially frustrating for them to try to understand math concepts when they don't think they'll be able to use those concepts in real life.

How can we change their minds and get them to appreciate math? By showing them how important math is to their everyday lives! Most students don't realize that they are surrounded by math on a daily basis. It's our job as teachers to show them how integral (see what I did there?) math is and to get them excited about math both in and outside the classroom.

So if you're struggling to get your students fired up about math, try some of these easy steps the next time math comes up in the classroom.

Prove That Math is Necessary to Real Life

Easier said than done, right? But not really! Your students interact with math every day. However, they don't always think about these interactions as being math related.

Do your students like music? Do they create art? Do they drive, shop, build things, play games, or have a job? If your students do these activities or have an interest in them, then they're using math.

student driving

I like to challenge my students to think of all the ways math is involved in a specific activity. Driving is a great one to start with! When you're driving, you use math to calculate speed, distance, and time. You need math to determine how many miles per gallon your car gets and how much gas you'll need to take a trip. You also need math for car maintenance and insurance. And let's not forget about the math and physics concepts that go into a car engine!

And that's just the tip of the iceberg! Once your students recognize that there's no escaping math, even in a simple activity like driving, they'll be able to actually appreciate it. And even if your students won't use every single equation or math concept you teach them out in the real world, they will be using the critical-thinking and problem-solving math skills they've learned over and over again.

Need more examples? Check out this Study.com lesson about Using Math in Everyday Life.

Relate Math to Things Your Students Understand

When it comes to making math relevant in the classroom, you can't go wrong with relating math to something your students already know and understand. I like to use sports examples, especially Olympics examples, a lot in the classroom when discussing math concepts. While not all of my students play sports, most of them at least watch sports, and something as universal as the Olympics is sure to capture their attention.

michael phelps swimming

When I teach significant sports figures, I show my students a video from the 2008 Beijing Olympics where Michael Phelps won the gold in the 100m butterfly by one hundredth (0.01) of a second. Not only do students love to watch videos, but they also get invested in the excitement of the race. Then, once we look at the finishing times, we discuss the importance of the clock having two decimal places. What if the clock only had one decimal place? What if it had three?

My class has also watched Usain Bolt race. Afterwards, they had to calculate his speed based on the length of the race and how long it took him. Then, it's fun to take them to the track and have them calculate their own speeds to see how they compare to his!

money

Money is also another great way to get students to appreciate math by relating it to something they already know about.

Show Students the Math They Can't See

As I mentioned above, we are constantly surrounded by math, but our students can't always see it. We need to be the ones to show them what math looks like!

And what does math look like?

Along with writing about his math experiences, Patrick Honner, an award-winning math teacher from Brooklyn, New York, photographs the math around him. On his blog, Mr. Honner posts photos of math out in the real world, such as a snowball tetrahedron or a ceiling made of equilateral triangles and hexagons.

'Teaching has inspired me to be more creative with mathematics… It is personally fulfilling, but it also inspires my students, who in turn inspire me with their geometric photography, algorithmic art, 3D sculptures, and mathematical writing,' he says in an essay titled I Love Teaching Math; Maybe You Will Too.

sunflower

By pointing out the math involved in ordinary things - snowflakes, sunflowers, honeycombs, human faces, spiral staircases, bridges, and so on - you're giving students the tools to find math on their own.

Adapt and Change Your Approach

Your classroom is filled with diverse students and what works for one student might not work for another. When it comes to math, or any subject really, you have to be willing to adapt and change your approach if your students don't understand what you're teaching them.

That's why it's so important to talk to your students to find out what they're interested in because if you're discussing something they actually care about - even if you're discussing it in the context of math - they'll be more likely to pay attention and appreciate what you're teaching.

By Melissa Kreindel
December 2017
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