Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Why Go To Class?

The Virtual Conference on Soft Skills

Like most (if not all) math teachers I constantly hear from many students about how they hate math. Hearing this time and again is quite frustrating and I find myself wondering how can I change these attitudes. I haven't found the magic bullet but I seem to have found a few things that may help.

Last semester I taught a number of students who hated math and were very open about it. Not only would these students tell me they hated math but they would also tell me that they loved being in my math class. This didn't make any sense to me so I asked them how they could hate math and yet love math class. The response I received was that class was fun and they didn't want to miss it. When I reminded these students about how much they hated math they simply repeated how much they enjoyed the class. This got me thinking. How could someone who hates math so much like coming to class so much? I probably should have worked a little harder to get meaningful feedback about what these students liked about the class. In any case, I tried to think about all of the things that I might do to make a class enjoyable. Here's a short list.

Take an interest in students: Be interested in what they are doing both in and out of school. Many students will be excited that their teacher cares about what they do.

Use humour: Many students sit in a desk all day bored to what seems like near death. Try to spice things up a bit by adding some humour. A small joke here or a silly word problem there can make a big difference.

Create a safe environment: Let students know that it's alright to take risks. Let them know that all answers are acceptable and that it's alright to be wrong. Try to build up their confidence so that they are more willing to take risks, answer questions in and out of class and help others. Students should know that they are in an environment where they should feel comfortable and respectful of each other.

Have fun: This one is the most important to me. I mean this in a couple of ways. Fist, be excited about what you do. If students see an excited or crazy teacher every day hopefully some of that excitement for math will rub off on them and they can start spreading the excitement. The second way to have fun is by...well...just plain having fun. Organize a class-wide spirit day. See how many other students in the school your students can convince to participate. The spirit days can be math based but certainly don't have to be. Organize a potluck breakfast or lunch or get students to bring in a couple of  bucks and buy some pizza. Have students turn a Christmas carol into a math song. The sky is the limit. These are the things students will remember.

These are some of the reasons that students may want to come to my class. I'm not saying that these things will turn students into lovers of mathematics. But it seems to get them to come. They seem to enjoy themselves and hopefully they will learn a few things along the way. The next time I hear of a student who hates math but enjoys my class I'll  find out what makes it enjoyable and share my findings.