Engaging the Unengaged Student: 3 Classroom-Proven Effective Activities

As a math interventionist in an urban Massachusetts district, I have worked with my fair share of disinterested students.  I enjoy the challenge, and I make it my goal to find a way to connect with each child and help them develop their math skills – no matter their current level.  I would like to share three types of activities that have worked for me and my students!

1 Play Games
I wrote a blog post last year that goes into depth about my first week working with some unmotivated eighth graders.  You can check it out here.

The bottom line is that “games” make learning not feel like learning.  Kids will focus on winning and – even some “tough” eighth grade boys – will show their playful side and might even giggle.  YET all the while, they are practicing math skills, learning, and developing their understanding of the math topics we’re studying.

I recently played Powers of Ten Math War in a fifth grade classroom.  The students had clearly been struggling with this topic so I offered to create and present the game to them.  The discussions among the ten and eleven year olds were excellent!  They were counting zeros, reading numbers aloud using proper mathematical language, and demonstrating solid understanding of powers of ten.

2 Get Your Students Moving!
Last year I spent the spring co-teaching an eighth grade math class a couple of days per week.  These kids spent a lot of their day resting their head on the desk, looking mopey, and lacking interest.  After grumbling and complaining, I got them out of their seats and participating in a scavenger hunt.  They loved it!  Well, most of them… it was a success!  J

Many students were asking questions and retrying until they got an answer that matched another scavenger hunt station.  The most reluctant learners would work while I helped and posed questions… and I did hear them helping each other when I walked away!  We did the Angle Relationships Scavenger Hunt and then later in the year we did the St. Patrick’s Day Proportional Relationships Partner Stations.

3 Facilitate Student Discovery
My favorite lessons with these groups were my discovery lessons.  They hate to show their work, try to get by with the minimum, and don’t really get why they are doing what they’re doing a lot of the time.  My discovery worksheets force them to think through each step and to reflect on why they did what they did, but with just enough scaffolding that it is all within reach and accessible!  My favorite sets of discovery worksheet that we did together were Angle Relationships and Pythagorean Theorem during my geometry review.  They were so engaged and made so many connections!

Click here to read a personal story I shared about one student in particular who grew leaps and bounds during our time together.

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Mathemagic Monday 3: Exponent Rules

Today for Mathemagic Monday I would love to share some ideas for teaching exponent rules – both positive and negative.

1 Build Meaning First
Starting by writing out the meaning of x3 as xxx can help students visualize what they are trying to accomplish.  I use the mantra “When in doubt, write it out!”  My introductory lesson can be found here.

2 Use Relatable Terms
When introducing negative exponents, I use an anecdotal approach.  I describe the variables with negative exponents as “sad” and positive exponents as “happy.”  Relocating when sad, will make you happy!  (But make sure to leave the happy factors where they are!)

3 Hands-On Practice
I firmly believe that hands-on practice is critical for students to cement concepts.  They more they “do,” the more they will learn.  Here are a few activities to check out: FREE Negative Exponents Number Line Game, Matching Game and Card Sort, and Old Math Guy Card Game.

4 Structure Can Help
There are so many different rules that it is important to have students organize them all in one place.  Discovery and practice are important, but make sure they have a reference sheet to study!

Join in the conversation!  What has working in your classroom?

Mathemagic Monday is a series of blog posts by Free to Discover that highlights some tips and tricks for making math meaningful and fun for kids, focusing on those shortcuts and connections that give us the “aha” moment.

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Math Mondays: Engaging the Unengaged Student

This week for Doc Running’s blog hop, we are sharing strategies for engaging the unengaged students in our classes.  I would like to share a personal story that still brings tears to my eyes when I recall the events of last spring.

Last year I left my beloved full time teaching position to pursue a part time position as a Title 1 Math Tutor.  I came from a very high achieving suburban district and now teach at an urban middle school school.  It was definitely a culture shock for me, but I felt I could really make a difference and I was right.  During my first week, I witnessed a lot about the culture of the school.  Disrespect, depression, and disinterest seemed to be abundant.

A student, we’ll call her Natasha, got into a verbal battle with her math teacher, and right away I was intimidated by her.  She was tough.  Nevertheless, I began teaching intervention lessons in her class.  I oozed with energy and joy as I worked with these kids.  How could I help it?  This is what I love to do.  For the first couple of weeks, I would make a quick stop at Natasha's desk, offer advice, and quickly move along.  After a couple more weeks, she would start to call me over to help her.  About two months into this experience, one afternoon when I was helping Natasha through some rate of change practice, she said "you can call on me for the answer to this one."  I was overjoyed that this girl with the cold, argumentative nature, now wanted to volunteer in math class.

Well, by the end of the year she would smile when she saw me in the hall and in class, volunteer to share her answers, engaged in all our activities, and even asked me to be her tutor.

Moral of the story?  It is amazing what a little energy, passion, and love can do.  I gave her time to learn to trust me, monitored her progress from a distance, and let my passion and love shine through.  I made sure Natasha – and all my students - knew they were respected and cared about.  This is why I teach.