Have you ever had a day when it felt like all of the energy and enthusiasm had been sucked out of your classroom? I know that there are times when I feel like I am slogging through a math lesson and I am somehow vaguely disconnected from the students. I am covering the math content standards but the energy in the classroom is low. I know that I need to escape from the doldrums, if only for a minute or two, and then get back to the lesson after energy has been restored.
With that in mind, here are 7 ways to energize your math class and put your students in a positive frame of mind that will lead to more effective learning:
1) Do Something Different (Big Purple Spider)
I have a big purple spider that hangs just under the lights right when you enter my classroom. It is attached to fishing line that runs around different light poles and attaches to a nail on the other side of my class. On the second day of school, and at random times throughout the year, I lower the spider in front of unsuspecting students as they enter my class. Some get scared, some smile, some act as if they never saw it, and a few have even screamed.
However, the best part of dropping the purple spider is that students who have already entered the class turn and watch as their classmates enter. When these students react, there are lots of smiles and laughs throughout the room. I enjoy it too. Overall, our reactions to the purple spider change attitudes and bring a positive energy to my math class.
I do other silly or “off the wall” things every now and then just to add a little humor and fun. Now I’m not saying that you should go out and purchase a purple spider. However, doing something quirky and fun every now and then will do wonders for the way you feel and your students feel.
2) Be the Person You Want Your Students to Be
At times I have approached a particular day or class with dread. Perhaps I wasn’t feeling good or a particular class required me to spend a lot more of my energy on classroom management rather than teaching. In any case, what has become very clear to me is that students will reflect the mood, enthusiasm, and demeanor of their teacher. If you want the students to care about your math lesson make sure that you care about them as individuals. Smile, be positive, be engaging, give students your best (even when you don’t feel like it) and I believe you will see positive results in your classroom.
3) Show Students the Power of Math in Real Life
Often our math lessons focus on transferring mathematical skill knowledge to students. This is fine, but there is often little or no context for these skills. Students will be more interested in learning math when you help them to see how the skills that you are teaching them can be applied in their middle school lives, or at least in the future. Wherever possible, give a concrete example. Are you teaching probability? You might want to discuss the lottery. Share with the students that the lottery has been called “a tax on people who are bad at math” and explain to them why.
One of the first assignments that I give every year is called “Ways I Use Math” (an printable activity I share with teachers who join our Middle School Math Treasures newsletter). The assignment requires students to draw and caption five pictures showing how they use math in the real world. I continue using this assignment because I believe it clearly shows students that math is present everywhere in their lives.
4) Play a Game
There are a number of fun math games that can be played when you are looking for a little “pick-me-up” for your class or if you just have a few extra minutes. My favorite math game is “Skunk.” You can find Skunk and 2 other free printable games here. If you are looking for more games to play with your students you might be interested in our Fantastic Middle School Math Games eBook. Good math games are fun, educational, and bring a spark of life to your class.
5) Discuss an Amazing Story or Strange Event
If I see an amazing story or a strange event that happened (that I think middle school students would be interested in) I often take a minute or two and share it with them. It is easy to find such stories online. I usually find mine on the Yahoo home page. Recently I shared an email that someone had sent me with interesting “bus art.” It had 15 amazing and creative pictures painted on buses that made students laugh. Two stories I found interesting included a boy being hit in the hand by a meteorite and a man who opened up his Visa bill to find a 17 digit number on his bill. It said he owed over 23 quadrillion dollars!
Sharing such a story or event can take as little as 30 seconds, but it can easily lift the energy of the classroom as students think and talk about the event. It also provides a quick connection point between you and your class that they think is fun or cool. Then it’s back to a more focused lesson with more attentive students.
6) Share Goals and Dreams
At the beginning of the school year I have my students fill out a “Student Self-Introduction.” It asks students to share some of their hobbies, activities, and other information about themselves with the class. Perhaps my favorite part to hear is when students complete the phrase, “One dream I have is to….” Hearing their completions of this phrase helps me to understand what is important to my students and to better connect with them. I also will share one of my goals or dreams with the students as this helps them to connect with me.
7) Connect with Your Students
Connecting with your students is key. I believe that engaging students in the classroom in areas outside of mathematics will promote the effective learning of math. Who wants to learn from someone they have not connected with who is droning on in the front of the room? I know that I pay much more attention to people that I have connected with. Sometimes connecting can be as simple as asking a question about their latest sports contest or even just using their name in a greeting as they walk in the door. On Mondays I often throw around a soft ball (not a softball) and let students take turns sharing what they did over the weekend for a few minutes. Again, this helps us feel better connected to each other and promotes a positive environment in a classroom that is based on mathematics but is also concerned about students as people.
What About You?
See if one or more of these seven ways to energize your math classroom resonates with you. If it does, put it into action. I would love to hear about your experiences or any other ideas you have to add life to the learning in your classroom. Please comment at the end of this blog post for the benefit of all of our middle school math teacher community.
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