For some students, math is an exciting opportunity to use their problem-solving skills to tackle a challenge. But, sadly, for others math is pure drudgery.
Sure, mastering addition and subtraction is important. However, throwing in some fun will keep it exciting. And, for those teaching younger children, it had better be fun or the little ones will drag their feet and mentally check out.
Getting Ready to Learn
Of course, children who are ready to learn math will learn faster. So it’s important to be sure every child has the basic prerequisite skills to do so. To determine what an early learner knows and doesn’t know, ask these simple questions:
Can he or she:
- Count to at least 20?
- Recognize numerals from 1-9?
- Count a given number of objects to at least 20?
- Match up numbers with those counted?
- Show what a number means, using—for example—objects?
- Orally identity a written number?
- Write or type the numbers 1-20?
Are We Having Fun Yet?
Just because a child is ready to learn math doesn’t mean they will. It’s up to the teacher to open their eyes to the wonders of mathematical world and invite them in. Here are some things educators should keep in mind as they build the right environment for learning math:
Put FUN first. Fun in math fits somewhere in between not too challenging and not too easy. Finding the sweet spot may require some experimentation. There is no reason to stick with traditional flash cards, drills, and rules. Instead, learn to incorporate hands-on, interactive, and learn-as-you go activities. Both teacher and students will get excited by math.
Make it a game. Math requires brain power which can be viewed as hard work by students. They will likely be more receptive to learning math if it is associated with play rather than work. There are numerous games that make math fun—like computer games, card and board games, quiz shows, and puzzles. Throw in some friendly competition and even the most reticent child will find it hard to resist.
Connect math to real life. We’ve all heard kids wonder why they have to learn math? What’s the point, anyway? Teachers can teach to the skeptics by showing them the many ways math comes up in real life. You got to know math to order pizza, pay for groceries, measure flour for baking cookies, and estimate how many minutes until school’s out.
Use irresistible manipulatives. Gummy bears, cereals, chocolates—manipulatives like these are a sure way to make math less boring and more memorable. The more creative the manipulative, the more fun.
Watch your language. We hear teachers admit, “I hated math growing up” or “I was terrible at math.” These phrases must be banished before they send a negative message to students. Math may not be a teacher’s favorite subject, but it doesn’t have to be that way for the children. Attitude is everything. Fake it if you need to!
Laugh more. Have you ever walked by a classroom where math learning was in progress? Was it so quiet you could hear a pin drop? Was that because the children were sleeping? Laughter is great medicine for the classroom that’s become all yawns and stares. Wake up sleepy brains by using it generously and spontaneously.
So, there you have it. The real secret to teaching basic math concepts revealed: Making math so much fun, children don’t even realize their mastering skills they’ll use for a lifetime.
For more strategies and techniques for putting the fun back into math, check out SDE’s webinar Addition Magician, Subtraction Reaction (Gr. 1–3) by veteran classroom teacher and Singapore math expert Anni Stipek.