As a high school math teacher, this question is always on my mind. There are many instances where I can read about how elementary/middle school math teachers engage their students, but find it difficult to find instances where certain strategies work with upper level math students. Manipulatives rule in lower level math content, but finding upper level math manipulatives is very scarce. In fact, thumbing through the latest Nasco Math K-12 (2017, pages 179-184) there are The Hands-On Equation Learning System, Algebra Tiles, and a Pan Algebra Balance. That’s it! There are many flash card systems, posters, workbooks, and other hard copy visuals, but not many manipulatives. The question then begs, how do you offer engaging upper level math lessons?
After doing some research, I found several math teachers that utilize some strategies would increase engagement in math class. Jose Vilson list several that I have slowly adopted in my class over the years even before reading about his experiences. When students ask Jose for help on a math problem, he answers them with more questions. (2012) I have done this more in recent times than when I first began teaching over twenty years ago. It has merit and allows me to get a good understanding of a student’s thought processes as they tackle a problem they may not know how to solve. Asking questions gets kids involved and engaged. Another strategy that Jose uses is to have students teach too. (2012) Often times, when many kids have questions at the same time, I plead with students who are done with their assignment to help those that are struggling. I personally feel that students who teach others content become more knowledgeable themselves. They really have to explain carefully their own thought processes and steps to a fellow student that usually have a similar vocabulary, and it works.
Matthew Busick shares some strategies that I don’t utilize at this moment. He states that we should open a lesson with a hook. (2011). Dave Burgess lists a plethora of “hooks” (31, I think) that can be used to engage students in his book, Teach Like a Pirate. (2012) This is where innovation comes into play. You have to do the unusual to get attention. I don’t think I have ever “hooked” a class full of students every lesson, but it is a good strategy to utilize as often as you can. Another strategy that Matthew uses is to address the “why” during lessons. Often times, I state to my students that the current lesson is in preparation to the next, or it will assist in a future lesson. Not a motivating reason to pay attention to me that day! I need to explain the end result of why we are learning the current lesson. Matthew does incorporate, as I do, many visuals in his lesson. (2012) I constantly tell my students to draw out a problem. Math is very visual, and those that teach without this strategy are missing one of the most engaging aspects of learning new content. I believe this is one reason graphing calculators and smartphone graphing apps are becoming more prevalent in math class. I grew up learning upper level math without one (cause they didn’t invent one yet!), and I tell my students how lucky they really are to have such as great tool these days.
Burgess, Dave. Teach Like a PIRATE: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator. Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
Busick, Matthew. (2011). Five Ways to Make Math Lessons More Engaging. Knewton. Retrieved from https://www.knewton.com/resources/blog/teacher-tools/five-ways-to-make-math-lessons-more-engaging/
Nasco Math K-12. (2017). [Printed catalog]
Vilson, Jose. (2012). Engaging Students in Math. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/engaging-students-in-math-jose-vilson