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“When will we ever actually use this?” is a common phrase math teachers hear, usually from students feeling frustrated. It’s easy for students to give up on math early in their education out of a lack of understanding and frustration. So, how can math teachers change their teaching to promote a deeper understanding of math and all its uses? Here are six ways teachers can help students better understand math.

Provide Context

The first ten minutes of a class can be the most crucial. The beginning of class sets the tone for the remainder of the lesson. Providing students with an introduction to a concept allows them to see why it’s important to learn, as well as what they can expect to learn that day. Provide a few practice questions to gauge their prior knowledge and ability with a concept and use that to determine how in-depth the lesson needs to be.

Teach to Multiple Learning Styles

If time allows, provide students with multiple ways to conceptualize and work through a concept. Draw a picture, present a video, and/or talk through a problem from start to finish. The more examples you give that show how a concept can be completed increases your ability to reach students with different learning styles instead of just a few.

Create an Environment of Curiosity

Too often students fall behind in math because they’re afraid to speak up and ask a question. Encourage curiosity so that students feel comfortable telling you when they don’t understand something. This kind of environment also allows teachers to understand how their students are approaching a concept. The more comfortable students feel discussing concepts, the better you’ll understand how to teach this concept in the future.  

Incorporate Study Skills

If teachers infuse study time into class time, perhaps towards the end of the period, they are able to supervise students’ study skills. In doing so, teachers can locate gaps in understanding and teach effective strategies for learning concepts outside the classroom.

Show the Applications

Students are more likely to want to learn a concept if they think it will be of use to them, hence the dreaded question. Show them a variety of ways that the math concept they’re learning can be used. Make it fun and interesting and they’ll be more likely to try and connect to it, and therefore learn. You can also incorporate real-life applications by giving out word problems that students have to work through.

Reward Effort

One of the biggest barriers for students struggling with math is their attitude towards the subject. If they are constantly struggling, they will often become frustrated and agitated in class. Teachers should not only encourage and praise students who are doing well. In fact, most encouragement should be focused on the efforts of the students who struggle. Reward effort and improvement, no matter how small, and vocalize encouragement often.

Most of math lies in students’ attitudes. A bad teacher may forever taint a student’s self-confidence when it comes to learning math. By providing context, interest, and encouragement, teachers can help students understand the subject and heal their frustrations.