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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Math IS NOT Scary

I hate it when people complain that they are no good at math or when kids think math is too hard, too scary, or just no fun.  Math doesn't have to be scary. In fact, math shouldn't be scary. Here are a few tips that I think have helped my students feel comfortable with math, because math IS NOT scary.

Tip #1: It's ok to make mistakes. All mathematicians make mistakes, yet for some reason my students seem to think that the only important thing is getting the right answer. One of the best ways to let students know that it's ok to make mistakes is to make some of your own. I don't even have to make them on purpose, they just happen for me. But you may need to make some on purpose to let your students see that we all make mistakes. 

Tip #2: Put math into real life contexts. I love writing problems with my students in them and they love hearing a problem about themselves or their classmates. Real life problems let students use what they already know to make sense of the mathematics.

Tip #3: You don't need to practice 50 problems if you can show what you know with 10 problems. Or maybe even 3 problems. I love math, but even I get tired of doing the same type of problem over and over again. There's no need to make the math boring with too many problems. Plus just looking at a page full of problems can raise the anxiety level for some students. If they can show their mathematical abilities with less, do less. If they need to get more practice in, consider other ways to do that besides a page with lots of problems. Think about using task cards, games, project based math assignments, etc.

Tip #4: Differentiate the same problem for your students.  My students come with a wide range of abilities. Giving problems that are appropriate for each level doesn't have to be a lot of work. I like to write task problems without the numbers in them. Then I can list 2 or 3 different sets of numbers for students to choose from. Most of the time students will choose the set of numbers that is just right for them or slightly difficult. Rarely do I see a student choose something that is just too easy for them. Plus, when a student is given the chance to pick their own level of difficulty, you've just given them the chance to feel confident before they even begin.

Tip #5: Make math fun. At the very beginning of the year I wrote a post about trying to help my students understand the magnitude of numbers. I set my students off to build up to one million. They worked all morning and even into the afternoon before anyone even reached one hundred thousand. When I stopped everyone and we gathered around to discuss the size of the numbers and the patterns they saw, I mentioned that math has a lot of patterns in it, you just have to look for them. One of my students asked, "This is math? We've been doing math all day?" Ummm...yes. Math can be fun. Math can make the time fly by. Math doesn't have to be boring.

Math IS NOT scary, so have fun with it.

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