Engaging Students In Mathematics Concepts

Engaging Students

As a teacher for over 10 years now, I can relate with those of you that have felt frustrated and overwhelmed when state test scores do not reflect the hard work, dedication, and gains that you see in your own classroom.  First of all, let me be the one to tell you that YOU ARE AWESOME!  Secondly, you are putting in the time.  And last, You are using your professional wisdom to make decisions that benefit your students.  I see you hugging your kids.  I see you getting down low to their level and helping them with their assignments.  I see you heading out to recess to play with the kids-even though you don’t have recess duty.  I see you having lunch with your class even though it is your lunch break, I see you working late and making copies, so your students have the things they need the next day to be successful.  I see you collaborating with colleagues after school hours to make sure what you are doing is working and is the best strategy for your kids.  You are worth your pay and so much more, teachers!

As a math coach this year, I have had the privilege to work with many teachers at two different elementary schools in my district.  This position has allowed me to observe different approaches to teaching.  My “tool box” has overflowed with new ideas and strategies that teachers use on a daily basis to engage, challenge, and equip all learners with the skills needed for the 21st century.

Another opportunity I have had this year that I am excited about is working with administrators, math coach colleagues, and district office personnel to look at math score data to make decisions on how to improve our practice.  Call me a weirdo, but I find data crunching to be fascinating, as it really is telling where there is room for improvement.  Math is an area that needs a lot of attention as our scores are down from previous years. We are in the fourth year of our current math adoption. According to the data, 4th and 5th grade at the elementary levels have taken the most hit in terms of scores dropping.  Another fascinating data point is the drops among particular population groups.  There are many opportunities for improvement, which is what makes being in education so rewarding.  To bring about change and see the data to back that up is an experience I hope to bring to a site and/or district in the future.

I have observed teachers presenting math in fun, creative ways that are teaching the students learning concepts when sometimes they don’t even realize they are learning!  A third grade teacher at one of my sites took the math curriculum outside the four walls.  She had students lining up in a straight line and throwing frisbees as far as they could.  She then had them take out their yard sticks and measure the distance.  Sure, she could have open the book and had students only do the guided practice and independent at their seats or in groups, but how much more fun and engaging was throwing a frisbee to teach addition/subtraction and measurement concepts?  Movement and math!

I also have observed teachers using budgeting projects to introduce the curriculum on decimals.  By budgeting a trip and doing the research, students have so much more background information going into the new chapter in our districts math curriculum.

These are only two of many examples I have seen from teachers in my district.  Students are more attentive to the tasks and enjoy class overall.

If you have read my first blog, PBL: A Success Story, then you know how much I love engaging students with real-world, meaningful tasks.  So the question is: What motivates learners and how are they motivated?  Well that answer depends on your philosophy of what motivates students.  Do you believe in extrinsic or intrinsic rewards, or a little of both – multifaceted motivation?


According to Vanderbilt University (2018);

Intrinsic motivators include fascination with the subject, a sense of its relevance to life and the world, a sense of accomplishment in mastering it, and a sense of calling to it.

Students who are intrinsically motivated might say things like the following.

  • “Literature interests me.”
  • “Learning math enables me to think clearly.”
  • “I feel good when I succeed in class.”

Extrinsic motivators include parental expectations, expectations of other trusted role models, earning potential of a course of study, and grades (which keep scholarships coming).

Students who are extrinsically motivated might say things like the following.

  • “I need a B- in statistics to get into business school.”
  • “If I flunk chemistry, I will lose my scholarship.”
  • “Our instructor will bring us donuts if we do well on today’s quiz.”

Teachers, what do you think?  Are your motivating factors more extrinsic or intrinsic?  If we are looking at equipping students with a love of learning for the long run, then our main focus for motivating students should be intrinsic.  We need to engage our students with real, meaningful work if we want their attention and overall success in our classes.  We can no longer be page-turning teachers.  We must thoughtfully look at our lessons/curriculum and figure out how to creatively make it come to life for our kids.  This is where the professional in each one of you comes in.  You are at the wheel of your classroom.  If you need help, let me know, or better yet ask your colleagues on campus.

As math coach for my district, I see the value in stepping in other classrooms to see what other amazing teachers are doing.  I wish we had the funds and the time to give all teachers the opportunity to get outside their classrooms and visit other colleagues on campus and at other sites.

Please drop in and let me know what your thoughts are on the topic of motivating students in the classroom.  What has worked best for you?

My upcoming blogs will include step-by-step plans on how you can incorporate projects and lessons that are highly engaging and motivating to students.

Until next time,


Published by scotthollandwilson

I am an educator in California for the past 10 years. Currently I am working on my Masters in Administration. I believe in giving students real life application to assignments. Follow me on twitter @mrwilson218

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