Take it from a trained teacher; making math fun to learn is just like making anything fun to learn. It takes 3 magic ingredients:
Purpose, motivation, and rewards.
To make math fun for kids, it’s a matter of finding that “just right” combination for each student.
We know what some of you are thinking. The mere mention of the subject brings back memories of dusty chalkboards, droning professors, and spiderwebs of complicated equations.
Isn’t making math fun to learn easier said than done? Especially since it’s math?
Absolutely. That’s why purpose, motivation, and rewards will always be within easier reach when learning to jet ski than learning to multiply.
Here’s the good news: it is possible to make learning math less of a mental trip to the dentist and a more fun, engaging experience.
Yes, math can be fun for all learners
When learning just about anything intimidating or “do I have to?”-inducing, there is a secret to getting it right.
Here’s step one: making the experience fun and ensuring the skills stick requires a healthy helping of creativity.
Start by connecting the new (and let’s face it, potentially boring) material to things kids already know and enjoy.
Math is no different. While it might seem like it’s more restricted in terms of fun applications for kids, there are a number of ways to go about making math fun. It’s a matter of thinking about every students’ likes, dislikes, interests, and prior knowledge.
We know that getting started is half the battle, so we’ve got some ideas to help!
The next step is to build the learning process around those magic ingredients I mentioned earlier: purpose, motivation, and rewards. To create and sustain an enjoyable learning experience with math, keeping each of these elements in mind makes all the difference.
Ways to make math fun
Referencing the above, what's the purpose? Aka “why am I learning this?”
This is where more than one student has gotten stuck with math.
Kids learn best when the material seems relevant to the world around them and applicable to achieving their goals. The more “hands on,” the better.
So, to make math fun, it’s a great idea to start with something as purposeful and tangible as possible.
1. Take a walk and find math “in the wild”
For a break from the numbers - and to get some fresh air - going for a walk will allow kids to see and recognize different shapes and concepts.
Whether it’s the hexagons found in bee hives, or the simple octagon of the stop sign, math is everywhere. Beyond that, how about the right angle or shadow a building’s wall forms, or way beyond that, the Fibonacci sequence found in sunflower petals?
2. Grocery shop for something delicious
Food is a universal motivator, right? Think about something your student really enjoys, create a budget, and hit the store. Your local King Soopers or Whole Foods is chalk-full of math problems.
What’s a 20% discount off of a $4.99 bag of chips? Or what is the cost per item if you have a buy one, get one free coupon for $3.79 box of crackers, and you end up buying three boxes? In a grocery store, kids can see the actual impact and application of their knowledge.
3. Take a road trip
Especially these days, a long car ride can feel like a much-needed vacation. So, the next time you get ready to hit the road, make it a fun math challenge.
If you need to reach your destination by 2PM, and it’s 80 miles away, what time do you have to leave the house, and what’s the average speed you must travel? How does that change if you encounter 30 minutes of traffic, or have to double back because you forgot your wallet after 10 minutes of driving?
Think of some destinations your student might be interested in visiting, and perhaps even make a scavenger hunt out of it! Ditch the worksheet for a map, and your student will thank you later!
Now, after defining the purpose, next comes the motivation...so let's gamify!
“Gamification” is all the rage nowadays for a reason. To “gamify” math, traditional learning methods are given the ultimate makeover and transformed into game-like activities. The end result? “Gamification” does wonders for student motivation.
Let’s be honest: lists of problems can be dull and repetitive. Dull is the nemesis of learning something new. Not only that, seemingly pointless practice fails to provide a reason for students to persevere through challenges.
On the other hand, beating a level, scoring points, teamwork, and/or a touch of competition incentivizes students to dive in and to keep going. There are all kinds of ways to “gamify” math and plenty of online tools to help get started.
4. Play brain games
Equations are all about expressing numbers in different ways. And, flash cards aid in memory and retention. So, why not combine the two?
By creating or finding flash cards that offer the same values only expressed differently - like, “5” and “√25” etc. - you can have kids match them up game-style.
5. Get statistical with sports
On the field or the court, sports are all about scoring; points, runs, goals, and more. But when you dig deeper into team and individual performance, you can uncover a plethora of numbers as statistics.
So, if you have a young sports fan having issues with something like fractions, why not link it to baseball. How about if a batter gets one hit in four at bats, doesn’t that mean the same thing as 1/4 and a .250 average?
From analyzing Moneyball to experimenting with probability through fantasy football, sports are a rich area to explore mathematically.
6. Embrace video Games
Without math, there would be no video games. Let that sink in. A quick discussion about how much math is actually found in video games can help spark the interest to learn more.
If your student is a gamer, making the connection between new math skills and the games they love is incredibly powerful. Plus, it might even help them set long-term goals. Maybe their dream job is at Epic Games, or perhaps they’d prefer to create the next hit app or game from the ground up.
The motivation needed to work hard and practice comes much more easily if your labor leads to something you want.
And the final piece—don’t forget those rewards!
High-level thinking takes work, and the path to mastery is peppered by potholes of trial and error. That’s exactly why rewards are so integral to the learning process.
Remember that words and benefits of encouragement go a long way. Pairing that encouragement with tangible, content-relevant incentives goes further still.
7. Incentivize savings
Once kids hit a certain age, they live for their allowance. All of a sudden, they’re the most helpful hands around the house. Funny how that works.
Of course, they are also in a hurry to spend that allowance! And while, yes, that’s the point, how can you encourage them to save?
Introducing interest and offering to add to their piggy banks if they can keep a certain amount inside and is a great way to get them thinking differently about their money, while encouraging better spending habits.
For older learners, the stock market can also provide fascinating real-world applications of math concepts.
8. Follow a recipe and make learning sweet
Perhaps the greatest application of math found in everyday life, right—baking cookies! Deliciousness aside, all you’re doing when following a recipe is executing an equation.
And sure, while following a recipe by the book is fun and all - and is the best bet for a tasty treat when all is said and done - think about doing things like doubling the recipe’s yield, or perhaps cutting it in half in order to help your child practice multiplication or division.
Transform the “classroom” into an episode of The Great British Baking Show, and everybody wins.
We’re in this together
There’s no denying 2020 has thrown more than a few curveballs into the education sphere. With getting used to distance learning, uncovering new and exciting after-school activit