Motivating Math Students
How do I motivate students to learn mathematics?
Each class and each student is different, but, in general, I have found that
people respond to education if it appeals to an item of interest in the
If a class or student is interested in sports, create lesson plans using
examples of probability (horse-racing), or averages (baseball statistics)
For a class/student interested in music, cite examples involving meter and
time signature (this helps understand fractions)
For a class interested in current news, take a newspaper and discuss cost of
living, interest rates, stock prices...
Bottom line, use topics the children can relate to and they will see value
in learning the (sometimes ) more boring rudiments of mathematics.
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In my experience, two factors tend to increase students' interest in
One is the teachers' enthusiasm and competence. The other, somewhat
related to the first, is the presentation of everyday problems in such a
way that their solutions necessitate introduction of new topics in math.
Indeed, this is the way mathematical concept and techniques have been
developed. Throwing mathematical techniques and methodologies at the
student and then trying to solve problems using these, in my view, is
not productive. Problems should lead to solution techniques and not the
other way around.
Additionally, students may better relate to mathematics if the teacher
includes some historical information as to when, how, and why a
technique was developed. This tends to tie in "conceptual" ideas with
the real world people and problems.
Ali Khounsary, Ph.D.
Advanced Photon Source
Argonne National Laboratory
There are countless ways...however, I would say the best place to start is
by connecting your lessons to their everyday experiences. For example, if
you are teaching the "FOIL" method, bring in some aluminum foil as an aid to
remembering the formula. Possibly let them make a shape out of the foil --
using geometry...Good Luck
I think it is important to communicate the awesomeness of numbers and
mathematics. An accessible subject for doing this, I believe, is number
theory. For example, the Fibonacci sequence: 1,1,2,3,5,8,13... And behold
the ratio of the [nth +1] / nth number in the sequence is
(1+sqrt(5))/2. And the sequence pops up many places in physics, biology and
math! Then there is the little book "On Size and Form" I recall the title is
gives numerous illustrations of how "things in nature" are governed by
In my opinion the more abstract "stuff" can wait.
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Update: June 2012