Make Learning Math Fun!

Math is such an incredible subject, how is it possibly known as the least enjoyable subject in middle school? In my experience, kids would say it is a combination of many factors, but what I always heard was that “math isn’t fun”. When I would ask my students what wasn’t fun, they would say that it was the only subject that you learned something, did the homework, and took a test. Rinse and repeat. Since math has a less than stellar reputation among middle school students, I wanted to share some ideas to “spice” up the classroom.

Today’s middle school students are digital natives. Yet, an overwhelming amount of them still say that anything presented on a computer is more exciting and interesting. Just giving students a computer isn’t enough, you want to have software that can support the teaching and learning that is going on in the classroom. Many school districts have chosen to implement adaptive learning software because the students can then use their computers to learn at their own level and pace. Everyone knows that kids like learning when they are challenged, yet can work through the material. Units of study that are too easy or too hard frustrate middle school students. Adaptive learning systems actively tailor instruction to each individual student and provide educators with valuable data that can aid their approach to teaching.

Math parties:
What middle school student doesn’t love a party? It is amazing how food can make anything fun! Host a Pi Day celebration with pizza or pie. While measuring the circumference of the pizza, you can also be discussing fractions and proportion. Have the students measure several circular objects with a string and have them approximate what value pi represents. If they are already familiar with pi, you can take out a different variable (such as radius/diameter) and have them estimate those values. There are also tons of card and dice games that lend themselves to math parties.

Real-world applications:
If you want to convince middle school students that math is an integral part of their daily lives, show them. Use information from their current monetary experiences, such as their allowance, lawn mowing wages, or recycling. You could also focus on rates, such as calculating the average speed of their school bus based on distance and time. Kids are interested in their futures, therefore discussing job wages, taxes, stock markets or mortgages can also spark interest.

Field Trips:
Math learning doesn’t have to be exclusive to the classroom. Effective math teaching strategies integrate instruction into the real world, and field trips are a great way to show middle school students the beauty of math. The National Museum of Mathematics in New York is just one example of places teachers can take their students to spark their curiosity and imagination, but educators nowhere near the Big Apple have plenty of other field trip opportunities to consider. Take the students bowling and have them calculate their own scores, or go to a baseball game and have them use what they’ve learned about averages to determine the home team’s batting averages. They’ll not only be having a blast, but they will also see math in their daily lives.
Math is a beautiful subject, it is already fun, so have a good time teaching it and the kids will likely be “infected” with your love of math.

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Kelly Urlacher

Curriculum Designer at DreamBox Learning
Kelly Urlacher began her career as a sixth grade teacher in Sammamish, WA in 2002. Shortly after, she received her Master’s in Education with an emphasis in Technology and Curriculum Development. After years of dedicating herself to students and education within the classroom, she earned her National Board Certification in 2009. Kelly currently works as a Curriculum Designer for DreamBox Learning and continues tutoring high school students in mathematics.