“It’s all about engagement” is the tagline for Kagan Cooperative Learning but it has became the mantra for my classroom for many years. It’s no secret that discipline problems decrease significantly when students are engaged in what they are learning, but I’ve come to realize that my students are more successful learners when they are engaged as well.
When I first started this blog years ago, I started with a series entitled, “Engaging Activities from A to Z.” It was a super fun series where I shared 26 ways to engage your math students. In today’s post, I’m revisiting the series and sharing my most successful strategies and tools for keeping my students engaged. I will also share an ebook I compiled from all 26 ideas. Be sure to grab your copy at the end of this post!
After 14 years of teaching in the classroom and working with hundreds of students, these are the top five ways I have found to keep my students excited and motivated to learn math.
1. Problem Solving and Critical Thinking Tasks: One of my favorite things to do in the classroom is to challenge my students with a variety of tasks that both engage them and help them build problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Tasks like Marcy Cook’s tiling tasks, AIMS Education’s problem-solving tasks, and The Problem Solver became my go-to resources for challenging my students. I loved watching my students tackle these challenges and try to make sense of them. While the challenges were sometimes more difficult and took more time than I anticipated, I always saw a huge return on the investment. And, by the end of the school year, they had made a tremendous amount of progress!
* Looking for some challenges to try in your classroom? Check out my free Solve It! Friday series here and monthly-themed problem-solving packs here. You can also find a few freebies in my file cabinet.
2. Games: Using games to engage students seems like a no-brainer, but I know you are thinking about time and resources. While I used all sorts of games in the classroom, my favorites were quick games that required few materials and only a few minutes of time. In fact, with an organized classroom and well-trained students, my students could play and complete a game in less than 10 minutes. This includes both gathering and returning materials! Sometimes, the game was a brain break, such as with Salute or Connect Four/Five, and other times the game was a way to review a skill. Whatever the reason, when I inserted games at the right moment, I was able to get a little more from my students.
* Looking for some quick templates? Check out my Editable Game Templates for Math Stations!
3. Stations: I LOVE stations! (Should I say that again!) Over the years, stations have become one of the ways I engage students the most. I found I can do anything through a station rotation– teach a new skill, review skills, and provide challenge opportunities. Again, organization is the key! Through the stations, I could integrate games, critical thinking activities, technology, independent practice, and small-group instruction. Because students are rotating through the stations every ten minutes or so, it’s an automatic engagement tool. Even when I used my daily station rotation structure, students were more engaged because they looked forward to this more unstructured time where they knew they would have the opportunity to work with others.
* Want to know more about using math stations in the classroom? Check out my free ebook here!
4. Math Menus: I’d heard about the idea of using menus in the classroom for years, but I did not really start using them myself until several years ago. I could not find a real purpose for them in my classroom; however, I started using them one year to challenge a group of students and they became a game-changer for me. Not only were they fun to create, but they gave me so much freedom. My students worked on math menus once they had completed their required work. They were full of challenge, problem-solving, and critical thinking and my students loved them. They were able to select on which tasks they worked and even create some “free choice” activities. The students had an entire grading period to complete them and I was always surprised at the number of completed menus I received. I even had one of my lowest students ask if she could take her menu home to do– SCORE!!
5. Puzzle Box: This is a tool that I started using with my middle schoolers when I needed a tool to keep them engaged after they completed their independent work. Basically, I filled a file crate with critical thinking and problem-solving tasks that I compiled from a variety of resources. Because the thinking required something different than the skills we worked on each day, students were excited to complete these tasks and then earn prizes and rewards. It’s a simple method of creating a fast-finisher task that requires little work from you.
* Read more about my puzzle box and see examples of my students’ work here.
Creating an engaging mathematics classroom has been one of the most successful classroom tips I can share with teachers. It has literally made an impact on the work I do– even today. Growing up, I can’t say that I was very engaged in math class. It was usually boring, every day. That’s not a commentary on the personality of my teachers but more of a commentary on how math was perceived at the time– the teacher is the giver of the knowledge and we were to take it in, assimilate it, and then regurgitate the knowledge at a later date. That’s not the way our students learn these days. They want to be engaged, so let’s give it to them!
Want more engagement strategies and ideas?
Check out my “It’s All About Engagement: Engaging Activities from A to Z” ebook! Use the form below to grab your copy!
Sound Off! How do you engage your students? Respond in the comments below.