Making Math Meaningful for Your Students

Students collaborating together in a math class

As a middle or high school math teacher, your students may inquire about the real-world applications of a particular lesson plan. Regardless of reasoning behind the question, your answer to this inquiry can help your students become engaged in the lesson.

As an aspiring or current math teacher, you already know the answer because you can see the function of math in everyday things and activities. To engage your students, you’ll need to inspire them and bring the lesson plan to life.

Begin each lesson plan with a story.

You can answer the question of how math is relevant to real life before your students even ask it. Start each lesson plan with a brief story, which could be true or a hypothetical example. For instance, if you’re introducing the concept of irrational numbers, you could start the class by saying something like, “In ancient times, a brilliant guy started a club devoted to the study of numbers. The members of the Brotherhood of Pythagoreans were ahead of their time, and they discovered irrational numbers before anyone else. But irrational numbers distressed them because they couldn’t explain them, and so they classified them as ‘unutterable.’ The Brotherhood put to death any member who mentioned irrational numbers in public.”

This short story will capture your students’ attention far more effectively than starting your lesson plan by saying, “Any number that can’t be written as a simple fraction is an irrational number.”

Make the lesson plan interactive.

Whenever possible, invite your students to contribute to the lecture or problem-solving demonstration. For instance, you could ask them to think of ways they might encounter quadratic equations during the upcoming weekend. If there are sports fans in your class, one example would be to consider the changing velocity of a ball when thrown up into the air. If someone is having a birthday party, ask the class to consider how many liters of soda could be purchased for $20 if each liter costs $1.69.

Some students will contribute to the class discussion more than others. To help everyone get equal practice, consider keeping a supply of miniature whiteboards in your classroom. Each student can take one at the start of class, write the answer on it and hold it up for you to see.

Introduce physical manipulatives.

During the early years of their education, your students learned by manipulating physical objects like blocks. By the time they reach middle and high school, they encounter few manipulatives in class. Some students learn best with concrete examples of abstract concepts.

Look for ways of bringing physical manipulatives back into your classroom. You could use everyday objects to demonstrate a lesson plan, or you can use specialized manipulatives that are commercially available. Some examples include algebra tiles, fraction towers and polyhedral models.

The College of Education at Grand Canyon University offers a modern curriculum rooted in Christian faith. Future math teachers are invited to apply to our Bachelor of Science in Mathematics for Secondary Education degree program. Get to work on your rewarding new career today by clicking on the Request More Information button.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.