Engagement in Mathematics — It’s not Easy!

How do we get our students engaged in mathematics?

I think that’s a winning question for sure. There’s no short, simple answer here. We certainly know how not to engage our students in mathematics: lecturing with a few examples and then assigning some repetitive bookwork ought to do the trick. The problem is, however, that this is what so many teachers are used to doing. This is what is comfortable. It’s not easy to branch out and do something different – especially when that different thing isn’t guaranteed to work. As teachers we are making ourselves vulnerable to failure by trying something different. This approach has “worked” for years, so why fix something that isn’t broken? I argue that the system is broken, however, and that it does need fixed. This teaching style does not entice students to learn. So, how can we avoid this?

I don’t think there’s a simple answer to this, either, but I think there are things we can do to help. We need to be willing to fail, though; willing to make ourselves vulnerable. It’s alright if we’re not right every time (we tell our students this, too, so why shouldn’t it be true for us?). First and foremost, I think we need to allow our students to take control of their own learning. We cannot allow them to be mindless listeners (is it really considered listening if it’s mindless?), but must rather make them into interactive learners. Thus we are dismissing the idea that they are the student and we are the teachers and we hold all of the truths. we don’t. The truths can, however, be discovered. Our students can discover them.

I’m not suggesting that we abandon all forms of lecture and set students loose, but I am suggesting that there are ways to better engage our students by allowing them to take control of their own learning. In my book, step one in this greater control is minimizing bookwork. I believe there are good textbooks out there. I believe there are far more bad textbooks out there. More often than not, students don’t learn what they need to from textbook questions. We can’t, however, just cut out bookwork because that doesn’t benefit anyone. I am working on replacing bookwork in my classroom. I am designing lessons that are intended to be partially worked on in class, but mostly completed as homework. My lessons should make my students think about what math actually means. There’s more challenge and more ownership. I think I hold my students to an unrealistically high standard. But why not? Why should they be limited by my low expectations of them? Thus I am designing challenging lessons that I believe my students can complete with the proper support – lessons that engage them and challenge them to take control of their own learning.

I have 5 lessons uploaded on my previous post. Take a gander. Do you think they actually do what I claim? Feedback and discussion more than welcomed.

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~ by Cassie.Becker on February 16, 2012.

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