Every start is a fresh opportunity. Whether our students are coming to a new class or resuming their old seats, their break has left them renewed, revitalised, and ready to learn. This clean slate is our opportunity to reignite, or even spark, their enthusiasm for mathematics.
But we know it’s not always that simple.
Just as it’s easy for students to lose their early drive and slowly slide into apathy, it’s just as easy for us to slip back into old patterns and accept it. Seizing the opportunity while this small window is open and switching mathematics from ‘ugh’ to ‘ugh-mazing’ for our students is achievable – here’s how:
A study into modelling mathematics lessons on growth mindset revealed some interesting insights.
Students tested with standard mathematics problems were more likely to get answers right but were far less motivated to complete the test. Students given the growth mindset test experienced the exact opposite. In fact, they grew more motivated to complete the test as they went on.
What was the crucial difference in these tests?
The first test was given in a format that students expected from standardised testing – solve the equation and you’ll find the answer. The growth mindset-based test gave students the opportunity to explore, discover, test their thinking and reason out their answers. Piquing their curiosity proved to be the key in developing intrinsic motivation and excitement to learn.
If a student is asking “why are learning this?”, it’s a sign they aren’t seeing the value in what they’re learning – yet. Instead of snapping back with “ the syllabus demands it and there will be test on the topic at the end of the semester” (yes, I’ve actually heard this), having a concrete purpose for learning will turn this into a powerful moment of inspiration.
After all – we all crave purpose to what we do, and students are no different. As math teachers, there are plenty of ways we can ground our topics in real-world situations.
Here’s how answering the ‘why’ helps build enthusiasm:
It shows that it matters – showing how maths makes a difference to their lives and potentially the world guarantees student ‘buy-in’.
It makes it interesting – the scope becomes inspiring rather than ‘do it and forget about it’.
It makes students a part of something – connections made between the lesson and the bigger picture make it a group effort.
And most importantly:
It makes it enjoyable – and the more enjoyable it is, the more willing they’ll be to get involved. Turning passive participants into active participants is life changing.
Think about it this way: You don’t learn algebra to know values or trigonometry to find the volumes of containers. You use them to get to the moon.
Autonomy is one of our students’ most powerful desires. At this point in their lives they’re living to their parents and the school’s schedule, so they’re curious and excited to exercise some independence.
Giving them the chance to make their own choices, practice responsibility, and feel success independently allows them to take ownership over a small (and extremely important) part of their lives.
Designing lessons with student choice in mind – ‘you can try it this way or that way etc.’ – opens new possibilities for developing curious minds.
Remember – when students are told what to do, their pathway ends when the job is done. When students are given the chance to explore, their journey can go on for a lifetime.