Engagement Strategies in the Math Classroom

The question that was posed in the last newsletter asked whether or not we, as teachers, believed that every student had the ability to reason mathematically? Part of the answer, I believe, lies in our ability to engage students in the inquisitive process of mathematics. Do we, as Math specialist teachers, have the tools and strategies that allow for students to engage in some sort of math reasoning regardless of the level that they are entering the classroom?

I have admit that it is a bit of a rhetoric question. I know that I would like to answer with a resounding YES, but I fear that my own classroom practices and strategies require more refining and developing to make it true.

For me, part of the solution that I am investigating is the power of a PRE-THINK task, or the HOOK of the lesson. I believe that if I can get each student to think critically in the first 10 minutes of class, I will have more buy-in for the remainder of the lesson. Some of you are probably thinking, “of course! We have known that for years!” – and you would be right. The missing piece for me, is that I never gave the HOOK of the lesson much credit beyond a fun game or puzzle. Instead, I am beginning to see that the students require PURPOSE and CONTEXT in the curricular outcome in order to tell their brains that what they are learning is important. As the teacher /leader of learning in the classroom, I need to be able to provide transparency and purpose right from the beginning of the lesson to engage their drive to learn.

The other key component that I strive for is SUCCESS for EVERY STUDENT in the first 5—10 minutes of class. This means NOT picking the hardest question from the homework to tackle. All this is doing is re-affirming their confusion and frustration and they effectively DIS-engaged for the remainder of class. The trick is finding tasks/questions/puzzles that challenge the high level thinkers, while allowing the students on a modified program an entry point into the discussion. They may not be able to answer as eloquently or deeply as another students, but they need to be able to make a contribution.

I don’t believe this to be the solution to all the problems in the math classroom, but allowing the students to experience the mathematical spark that comes from seeing a pattern for the first time, making a guess and seeing it’s true, or watching how numbers work so seamlessly together is one of the great joys of mathematics. If all they are feeling is frustration because they are not achieving the “curricular outcomes” we are robbing them of their ability to reason mathematically because they will only see numbers as something that they “just don’t get”.

Josie Nagtegaal