How to Motivate Students in Mathematics

We all know how teenagers can be. Just because your star student is capable of excelling in school doesn’t mean they are always willing to apply themselves. It’s quite common for teens to lack focus during some of the most important years in their academic careers. 

And the specific combination of institutionalized education and the blossoming social needs of teenagers leaves them with short attention spans that dwindle by the minute as soon challenging or boring topics come up. This makes teaching mathematics an uphill battle. 

Avoid Being Too Hands-On

Between helicopter parents and well-meaning teachers, sometimes we try to get too involved in creating study outlines and checking work. But the teenage years should be treated as a time to develop independence and build good habits.

While you might feel helpful when doing these things, it takes the responsibility off of the student. And without ownership, intrinsic motivation plummets, resulting in disengaged and inattentive students. Here’s what to do instead.

Provide them with Appropriate Resources  

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of maths revision resources available online. But the quality of those resources varies significantly. If you are looking for ways to help your students, start by vetting resources and directing students to quality resources that are appropriate for their level. 

Set expectations for how students should use the resources but avoid specifically assigning study time with these resources. This allows room for the student to take the initiative and own their study habits. It also ensures that as they move into higher levels, they will be able to handle their study needs adequately.

If you are concerned that a student isn’t taking enough responsibility for his or her revisions, then that is a motivational problem that cannot be solved with scheduling assignments for them. Instead, you should be helping them build motivation.

Help them Apply Relevance

Even as adults, we are resistant to learning new things when we are unable to see how the information or skill applies to real life. And in mathematics, this relevancy is the plight of every disenfranchised high school student. If you can help them draw the connections between mathematics topics and everyday life, students often find a new appreciation for math that leads to better engagement.

For example, one BBC documentary titled ‘The Story of Mathematics’ by Marcus du Sautoy is a great place to start. 

Download Exam Board Specifications

As a parent, you may be completely unfamiliar with the IB Maths course content, so the idea of helping your child make a study guide is like wandering in the dark. The good news is that you don’t have to be a mathematics expert to provide some guidance. Downloading the exam board specifications for each class will give you a bird’s eye view of the content covered in the course.

Exam board’s specifications are detailed documents that break down the curriculum so you and your student can identify strengths and weaknesses to focus revision time on. This is the perfect resource for non-teacher parents looking to help their students.

Shape a Positive Mindset

It’s not uncommon to hear of students struggling in mathematics. Math is one of those subjects that builds on foundational concepts, so when learners fail to master basic mathematics skills, they struggle throughout their entire academic career. Unfortunately, in many school settings, poor performance is never corrected by going back to the basics.

Instead, learners are labeled with learning disorders or simply adopt the attitude that they are naturally inclined to be poor mathematics students as if it is beyond their control. As the parent of a mathematics students, the best thing that you can do for their success is to intentionally shape a positive mindset.

With a can-do attitude and a little remedial revision on the basics, any student can master mathematics. And the great news is that small successes build confidence. And as the student gains confidence, they will become more engaged in learning and better able to self-direct their study.

Forget the ‘Drill and Kill’ Mentality

While many teachers have taken the approach of drowning students in endless practice problems in an effort to make math stick, it isn’t the most useful or interesting method for success. The only thing it truly accomplishes is making math boring and disengaging students. Plus, if they don’t fully comprehend the lesson, they may just be reinforcing bad habits that lead to incorrect answers.

Students do not need to drill hundreds of problems to learn a concept. But they do need to actively engage in the lesson. A better alternative is to find an interesting and active way to teach the lesson and then work it into the revision routine so that it is practiced in small doses, regularly, and with appropriate spacing.

Have them Teach You

One way to gauge whether your student truly understands the material is to have them teach someone else. This could be an opportunity for you to sit down with your child and have them teach you, or you could pair them with another student while you observe.

Our brains are pretty good at playing tricks when we don’t want to pay attention to something. Your child might honestly believe they have mastered something until they try to explain it to someone else and get stuck. This definitely lets you know where to focus additional revision time.

The Bottom Line on Motivating Students to Succeed

It is not uncommon to see a student struggling with math. Universally, it is one of the most challenging academic subjects for most students. This is because mathematics relies on strong foundational knowledge, and student progress can snowball based on how well or not well, they learned the basics. The key to motivating a student who is struggling in math is to help them adopt the right mindset and to gently direct their revision habits where they need it the most without trying to take over or be too hands-on.

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