Every child learns math in their own way, but which is best?
Many children write down every word the teacher says. Some scribble sketches conveying the same information. Others gaze out the window, processing the lesson while in what appears to be a daydream. Children have different learning methods, but one style isn’t more effective than the other. The secret to maximizing their preferred method: participate in active learning.
Children can prefer visual learning, auditory learning or tactile learning. It depends on what excites their brain and memory most. Regardless of which style best suits an individual, participating in active learning helps children retain information for the future.
Before we can teach these strategies for mathematics, we need to investigate the concept of active learning. What is it, how do you use it, and why is it effective?
What is active learning?
Active learning is a time-tested, trusted method that helps students of all ages absorb information more effectively than passive listening. Although many of us think we are active listeners and learners, you might be surprised to discover how passive listening habits can get in the way of our memory and retention abilities.
Active learning is the concept of students being involved in the teaching process during class. This can be through question and answer sessions, relevant activities, group work and class discussions. Studies show this helps stimulate students’ brains and thought processes. It also reinforces understanding of more difficult mathematics course material.
Some examples of active learning in math class involve:
- addition and subtraction games, and calculus challenges
- peer-instruction groups
- grading peers’ mathematics quizzes
- team assignments
- bonuses for hands-on problem solving on extra credit assignments.
Using active learning techniques is a proven method for academic benefits. It also receives positive feedback from students. Teachers who practice such techniques make the lessons more engaging by:
- dividing students into groups for collaborative work
- guiding students through tough concepts
- allowing for each individual to complete their respective worksheets
The combination of different approaches to the same lesson helps students interpret the information in multiple ways. This reinforces itself in the memory.
After discussing a topic in mathematics your student, consider using an active teaching strategy. This could be a worksheet, interactive and math-based game, or team project to stimulate collaboration and sharing of information. Several more examples are listed at the end of this article.
By combining “traditional” teaching methods with interactive practices, teachers help keep students focused and interested in the task at hand. Studies show active learning leads to more consistent grades, higher average test scores, greater class participation, and increased classroom focus.
So why isn’t everybody teaching this way?
Simply put, it requires more work. Teaching active learning requires educators to develop a dynamic set of activities for every lesson. Likewise, students need to work hard to engage with all the activities taught in a typical lesson. Instead of passively listening to a lecture, when information can go in one ear and out the other, active learning participation takes more energy.
It also takes more energy to tune out distractions. Getting rid of distractions, such as online computer games, phones, friends sitting nearby and other assignments can be tough. Students today are masters at multitasking, but that can be detrimental for the learning experience. Multitasking can take away from comprehension because students who divide their focus can easily tune out the lesson –– even if it is taught actively.
Teachers and parents need to understand how their extra effort to activate lessons can make a monumental impact on student success. Not only will it spur better test scores and class participation, but can it help students ignore distractions and refocus on what matters during class time.
If your child is unable to concentrate in class, even if the Albert Einstein of active learning were their teacher, consider hiring a math tutor. One-on-one lessons help students stay focused, understand tough concepts, and feel confident during school. Plus, they can cater active learning techniques specifically to your child’s interests for the best learning experience possible.
Five active learning games to try
If you want your children or students to move their bodies while they study, this is a great game. For each word or concept your student needs to remember for the lesson, create an exercise to match it. These exercises could be a workout like pushups or jumping jacks. Or they could be small “Simon says” tasks like standing on one foot or snapping your fingers.
When students integrate information with a physical activity, they better remember the information come test time. You can quiz your child/student by performing one of the exercises then asking them to recall the associated word and explain it.
Similar to word-exercise association, this game gets the mind and body moving. Start by placing numbers and mathematical symbols on the ground into a hopscotch pattern. You could use a chalk drawing on the pavement or scattered printer paper on a carpeted floor. The space between numbers or symbols should be “jumping distance” apart from each other.
Ask your student to leap from one side of the hopscotch field to the other, alternating between numbers and mathematical symbols. Then, see if they can solve the path they took if it were rewritten as a math equation. Students who can make it across the field AND solve the equation earn points. Make it interesting by adding extra rules for landing on two numbers at once or making the equation longer.
If your student has to watch video courses from home, live reactions can make the material more engaging. Leaving time-stamped comments on the video to share with the class is exciting because students can see how their classmates reacted to different parts of the video. This can spark discussion, answer questions, or help students bond over the material as they share similar reactions.
One way to make this fun is to integrate Live-Tweeting, reaction emojis or hashtags that students can pin onto the lesson as it’s being taught.
Cross the Line
Provide the classroom with a statement then have the students organize themselves depending on how much they agree or disagree with the statement. You can use lines on the ground to separate “strongly disagree,” “disagree,” “undecided,” “agree” and “strongly agree” sections of the classroom.
Students will be able to see where their classmates stand on a topic and a teacher can engage with them by asking individuals to defend their position. If the debate sways a student’s opinion, they can ‘cross the line’ to join a different group. The game ends when every student is confident in their opinion and does not want to move any more. Then the teacher can pose a new statement to continue the game.
Deficiency might sound like a bad thing, but this game turns it into a positive. When discussing a lesson with a student or group of students, add restrictions to the conversations such as “everyone has to speak in the form of a question, Jeopardy-style!” or “you aren’t allowed to use words that start with the same letter as your name!”
While these restrictions make classroom discussions a bit more difficult, they also make them way more fun. Students have to reconsider their thoughts a few times before speaking to make sure they stay in the game. This helps reorganize and reinterpret the lesson for better memory. To encourage students to participate in a deficient discussion game, you might offer incentives to the students who make the fewest mistakes.
About the author
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.