How to Promote Positive Student Attitude in Math Class

How to Bring Out the Best in Your Math Students

Think back to your experience from elementary or secondary math class. What do you remember?

For me, I don’t recall a classroom that was buzzing with energy, engaging or exciting in any way. Sit down, copy a note and get some homework completed was the general procedure for most math classes. Don’t get me wrong, I had some great teachers as well. One that would always add funny sketches to his notes, another that would juggle chalk and then blow into his hands like he was ready to throw dice, and I even had a math teacher and his wedding band play at my wedding. Some teachers have so amazing ways of engaging their students. I read about one teacher who used yoga to help her teach. Apparently she had taken an online yoga training course and it helped her connect with her students and relieve some of the anxiety they felt around maths. Great teachers, even though they used a traditional approach to teaching. This was a time before the three-part lesson and before anyone questioned the idea of focusing on procedure and memorization.

What Did These Great Teachers Have?

Promoting positive student attitude in math class begins with the teacher. If I stand up infront of my class and lead a lesson without any sort of passion or energy, how can I expect the same from my students? Many staff rooms are filled with conversations about how this student didn’t do this or that student has a horrible attitude, yet we never consider analyzing ourselves and how we look to our students. Have we considered that these very students we speak of in the staff room may be having a similar conversation where the tables are turned?

My favourite teachers always brought positive energy into the classroom and engaged students in the ways they knew best. Modelling a love for math and excitement for learning.

How to Promote Positive Student Attitude in Math Class

  1. Never say “I was never very good at math.”

    Often times, students have formed an opinion on mathematics because of something heard from family, friends or even the media. Our job is to build student confidence in mathematics and eliminate the math-phobia that exists in North America. Regardless of whether you had a painful experience learning math, you must show students that you are confident and willing to share your expertise with them.

    Suggesting that you performed poorly in mathematics and will try to make it as easy as possible is simply not an option to promote a positive attitude in math class.

  2. Be a source of positive energy for your students.

    Educators have 30 students (or more) coming into their classroom everyday, each with their own issues. While it would be great if every student walked in with a huge smile on their face and a pleasant “hello,” this is simply not the case on most days.

    Students breakup with their first loves, friends get in fights and kids run late because their older siblings wouldn’t get out of the shower. hat Josh may not have any sleep because his parents stayed up all night party,r Cindy might live at a group home and not have much to smile about.

    Regardless of your classroom dynamic, you have to do your best to be welcoming and provide the positive energy that your students may not receive elsewhere. Positive energy is contagious and you will notice a difference over time.

  3. Bring the real world into your math classroom

    The Water Fountain Problem | Real World MathematicsAre you bored teaching the same lesson on Pythagorean Theorem for the 15th time? Maybe it is time to try and apply right angle triangles to the world around you. What about two students taking two paths from one part of the schoolyard to the other side of the school? Or, maybe you’d like to try the Taco Cart problem by Dan Meyer. You can also engage them in math games, or talk about the story behind the development of a theorem. Brightening the classroom with a math art poster or related pictures on wood or acrylic style canvas is a good idea.

    Regardless of how you go about it, make the math apply to the world around you and your students will naturally be more drawn to participate.

  4. It’s our job to engage learners; not their job to learn.

    Students didn’t sign up to spend 6 hours a day, 30 hours a week, or 1,164 hours per year sitting in an uncomfortable desk at school, so why do we expect them to be completely engaged and excited for our class when it simply isn’t engaged or exciting?

    You might also do this by considering the space you teach in. No student will want to come in and learn in a space that feels cold and boring to be in. To solve this issue you may find it useful to decorate your classroom in an engaging manner. For example, you might use colorful paints that can help to expand creativity, or you might use wallpaper to possibly help with achieving a similar goal. Also, you could make the space feel like the students’ own space by presenting their work and creations.

    On the other hand, if you work hard on a lesson that you feel would be engaging and the students aren’t engaged, don’t take it personally. Every lesson is an experiment, so just be willing to make the appropriate adjustments and try again with a positive outlook.

  5. Always ask yourself: “Would I find value in this?”

    It can be easy to think negatively when your class doesn’t seem to be engaged in your lesson. Reflecting on your lessons and making an effort to adjust them to increase engagement will surely improve the attitudes of your students and as a result, you’ll receive a positive energy boost as well!

Educators endure trying times on a regular basis. I hope these tips will assist you as you look to promote a positive student attitude in your math classroom.

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About Kyle Pearce

I’m Kyle Pearce and I am a former high school math teacher. I’m now the K-12 Mathematics Consultant with the Greater Essex County District School Board, where I uncover creative ways to spark curiosity and fuel sense making in mathematics. Read more.

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