Students Don’t Like Math? Ask the Right Question.

Illustration by Damián Navas

A short article written in a 2006 issue of NCTM’s mathematics journal, Teaching in the Middle School, caught my eye. It was entitled “Some Students Do Not Like Mathematics”. The reasons stated were the same as we have heard for years: “We don’t engage our students,” “Parents are not involved,” “Students don’t know how to expand their thinking when they solve a problem.”

I object to hearing a problem discussed without including at least one concrete solution, and this got me thinking: What solution(s) would I offer if I had written this article.

Of course, my first advice would be to buy an iPad and download the Elevated Math lessons. Most students enjoy math when they watch the videos and work the problems.

But that’s an obvious answer. What else could I say?

I read the article again, and zeroed in on the statement “students who dislike math have problems with persistence and motivation.” It seems easy to give up on such students. I mean, how the heck do you teach persistence? And how do you motivate an unmotivated kid? But maybe these are not the questions to ask.

When searching for a creative solution it’s helpful to ask a different question. For instance, if you need to make dinner for 20 people, you can dwell for days on how best to cook your favorite chicken dish.  But you might also ask, “What dish is easier to make?” Or even better, “Can each person bring a dish so we have a variety of foods and I only have to make one small entree?!”

The same goes with answering the question, “How do I help students like mathematics?” Maybe the questions to ask are “What do students like?” and “How can we tie math into that?”

Of course! Games! Kids like to play games, and they like to compete. Games teach persistence, and healthy competition motivates, right?  Maybe we should not be so quick to discourage our kids from playing video and computer games.

Two middle school math teachers came to my place last summer so I could help them load the Elevated Math lessons onto their iPads. They had a math camp and wanted to try out the lessons. As they waited for the upload to complete, they played a game called Five-O. Their students, they said, loved the game and liked how math was fun.

Last week I read an article in the Las Vegas Sun. The article was about a school district that had seen vast improvement in math scores by using a computer game called ST Math by Mind Research. Quoting from the article, “Teachers were reluctant at first about surrendering valuable class time to a computer game… But that changed once administrators and teachers saw how effective the game is at keeping students focused on math.”

This idea is far from new. Many articles have been written proclaiming the effectiveness of math games in learning and applying concepts and skills.  But with the launch of the iPad less than two years ago and the subsequent development of math apps with game features, teachers and parents now have a wealth of resources available in the iTunes Store to help students like math, to help them become more persistent through competition, and to motivate and engage. Asking the right questions can indeed lead to effective solutions.

Here are some math apps we have tested and like:

Math Showdown Multiplication   []

Multiples x   [MathTappers Apps…   designers are math educators and researchers, Tim Pelton and Leslee Francis]

Splash Math 3  [StudyPad, Inc.]

EverydayMathematics Baseball Multiplication with 1 – 12 Facts  [McGraw-Hill]

Math Wars  [Life Skills Games]

Aliens Kids Math HD – for iPad   [Brain Counts]

Math Bingo  []

Monkey Math School Sunshine  [THUP Games]

Rocket Math   [Dan Russell-Pinson]

Math—Rounding Numbers   [King’s Apps]

Motion Math Zoom   [Motion Math]

Math Board    [palaware]

Multiplying Acorns HD   [Operatio]

4th Grade Math;  Splash Math Worksheets App    [StudyPad, Inc.]

Math Ball  [Wuxi Haohai Information Technology Co., Ltd.]

Timed Math   [Elmore]

4 thoughts on “Students Don’t Like Math? Ask the Right Question.”

  1. How ’bout “ask them questions they can answer, and enable them to figure out how to answer them, and imbue them with the expectation that if they’re asked a question, that they have to tools to figure out how to answer them?”
    If students have already lost confidence, then no matter what the question, they tend to sit and wait for the smart kids to answer the question. Teacher’s happy, smart kids are happy, the lacking in confident are happy — but just maybe, they *could* have bene learning that “expand your knowledge” stuff…

    1. Sue,
      I agree. I visited some HS math classes a month ago and almost all the teachers were using the Socratic method of teaching – asking questions and letting the kids who knew the answers answer. And these kids were answering simply so they would not fall asleep! The kids who did NOT understand were too afraid to ask questions. I believe the solution is what is called the “flipped classroom.” (I hate the term but for a lack of a better one I’m forced to use it.) Here is a blog post we wrote in November: Tell us what you think.

  2. This is a great article, I can’t wait to check out Elevated Math videos, lessons, and the apps you suggest.

    Have you come across any games that use math through social and pop culture scenarios such as making decisions, multiple ways of thinking, the sets of rules and processes we use in math, etc?

    1. Maryscott Glasgow

      Corina, thank you for your comment! Hope you can find the time to check out the Elevated Math lessons because we are sure you will find them unique, effective, and engaging.

      Many of the Elevated Math lessons use pop/social scenarios to help students understand math rules and processes and often will point out how there are multiple ways to solve problems or multiple ways to look at a problem. That is what makes our lessons so unique, effective and engaging. [as I stated above : ) ] As for other math games, I have not run across any yet, but as I am trying out new apps that are game-based, I will keep you in mind.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *