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Top 9 Math Strategies for Successful Learning (2021 and Beyond)

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Math is an essential life skill. You use problem-solving every day. The math strategies you teach are needed, but many students have a difficult time making that connection between math and life.

Math isn’t just done with a pencil and paper. It’s not just solving word problems in a textbook. As an educator, you need fresh ways for math skills to stick while also keeping your students engaged. 

In this article, we’re sharing 9 engaging math strategies to boost your students’ learning. Show your students how fun math can be, and let’s freshen up those lesson plans!

Why are effective Math strategies so important for students?

Unlike other subjects, math builds on itself. You can’t successfully move forward without a strong understanding of previous materials. And this makes math instruction difficult.

To succeed in math, students need to do more than memorize formulas or drill times tables. They need to develop a full understanding of what their math lessons mean, and how they translate into the real world. To reach that level of understanding, you need a variety of teaching strategies. 

Conceptual understanding doesn’t just happen at the whiteboard. But it can be achieved by incorporating fun math activities into your lessons, including 

Repetition and homework are important. But for these lessons to really stick, your students need to find the excitement and wonder in math.

Getting students excited about Math problems

Creating excitement around math can be an uphill battle. But it’s one you and your students can win! 

Math is a challenging subject — both to teach and to learn. But it’s also one of the most rewarding. Finding the right mix of fun and learning can bring a lot of excitement to the classroom. 

Think about what your students already love doing. Video games? Legos? Use these passions to create exciting math lesson plans your students can relate to. 

Hands-on math practice can engage students that have disconnected from math. Putting away the pencils and textbooks and moving students out of their desks can re-energize your classroom.

If you’re teaching elementary or middle school math, find ways for your students to work together. Kids this age crave peer interaction. So don’t fight it — provide it! 

Play a variety of math games or puzzles. Give them a chance to problem-solve together. Build real-world skills in the classroom while also boosting student confidence. 

And be sure to celebrate all the wins! It is easy to get bogged down with instruction and testing. But even the smallest accomplishments are worth celebrating. And these rewarding moments will keep your students motivated and pushing forward.

Top 9 math strategies for engaging lessons

Keep reading to uncover all of our top math strategies for keeping your students excited about math. 

1. Explicit instruction

You can’t always jump straight into the fun. Explicit instruction still provides the best foundation for the activities to come. 

Set up your lesson for the day at the whiteboard, along with materials to demonstrate the coming activities. Make sure to also focus on any new vocabulary and concepts. 

Tip: don't stay here for too long. Once the lesson is introduced, move on to the next fun strategy for the day!

2. Conceptual understanding

Helping your students understand the concept behind the lesson is crucial, but not always easy. Even your highest performing students may only be following a pattern to solve problems, without grasping the “why.”

Visual aids and math manipulatives are some of your best tools to increase conceptual understanding. Math is not a two dimensional subject. Even the best drawing of a cone isn’t going to provide the same experience as holding one. Find ways to let your students examine math from all sides.

Math manipulatives don’t need to be anything fancy. Basic wooden blocks, magnets, molding clay and other toys can create great hands-on lessons. No need to invest in expensive or hard-to-find materials. 

Math word problems are also a great time to break out a full-fledged demo. Hot Wheels cars can demonstrate velocity and acceleration. A tape measure is an interactive way to teach area and volume. These materials give your students a chance to bring math off the page and into real life. 

3. Using concepts in Math vocabulary

There’s more than one way to say something. And the more ways you can describe a mathematical concept, the better. Subtraction can also be described as taking away or removing. Memorizing multiplication facts is useful, but seeing these numbers used to calculate area gives them new meaning. 

Some math words are going to be unfamiliar. So to help students get comfortable with these concepts, demonstrate and label math ideas throughout your classroom. Understanding comes more easily when students are surrounded by new ideas. 

For example, create a division corner in your station rotations, with blocks to demonstrate the concept of one number going into another. Use baskets and labels to have students separate the blocks into each part of the division problem: dividend, divisor, quotient and remainder.  

Give students time to explore, and teach them big ideas with both academic and everyday terms. Demystify math and watch their confidence build!

Teacher sitting in front of her class of students with their arms raised

4. Cooperative learning strategies

When students work together, it benefits everyone. More advanced students can lead, helping them solidify their knowledge. And they may have just the right words to describe an idea to others who are struggling.

It is rare in real-life situations for big problems to be solved alone. Cooperative learning allows students to view a problem from various angles. This can lead to more flexible, out-of-the-box thinking. 

After reviewing a word problem together as a class, ask small student groups to create their own problems. What is something they care about that they can solve with these skills? Involve them as much as possible in both the planning and solving. Encourage each student to think about what they bring to the group. There’s no better preparation for the future than learning to work as a team. 

5. Meaningful and frequent homework

When it comes to homework, it pays to think outside of textbooks and worksheets. Repetition is important, but how can you keep it fun?

Create more meaningful homework by including games in your curriculum plans. Encourage board game play or encourage families to play quiz-style games at home to improve critical thinking, problem solving and basic math skills. 

Sometimes you need homework that doesn’t put extra work onto the parents. The end of the day is already full for many families. To encourage practice and give parents a break, assign game-based options like Prodigy Math Game for homework. 

With Prodigy, students can enjoy a fun, video game experience that helps them stay excited and motivated to keep learning. They’ll practice math skills, while their parents have time to fix dinner. Plus, you’ll get progress reports that can help you plan future instruction. Win-win-win!    

Set an Assessment through your Prodigy teacher account today to reinforce what you’re teaching in class and differentiate for student needs. 

The Assessment creation screen in a Prodigy teacher account.

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6. Puzzle pieces math instruction

Some kids excel at math. But others pull back and may rarely participate. That lack of confidence is hard to break through. How can you get your reluctant students to join in?

Try giving each student a piece of the puzzle. When you’re presenting your class with a problem, this creates necessary collaboration to get to the solution. 

Each student is given a piece of information needed to solve the problem. A number, a unit of measurement, or direction — break your problem into as many pieces as possible. 

If you have a large class, break down three or more problems at a time. The first task: find the other students who are working on your problem (try color-coding or using symbols to distinguish each problem’s parts). Then watch the learning happen as everyone plays their own important role. 

7. Verbalize math problems

There’s little time to slow down in the classroom. Instruction has to move fast to keep up with the expected standards. And students feel that, too. 

When possible, try to set aside some time to ask about your students’ math struggles. Make sure they know that they can come to you when they get stuck. Keep the conversation open to their questions as much as possible.

One great way to encourage questions is to address common troubles students have encountered in the past. Where have your past classes struggled? Point these out during your explicit instruction, and let your students know this is a tricky area. 

It’s always encouraging to know you’re not alone in finding something difficult. This also leaves the door open for questions, leading to more discovery and greater understanding.

8. Reflection time

Providing time to reflect gives the brain a chance to process the work completed. This can be done after both group and individual activities.

Group Reflection

After a collaborative activity, save some time for the group to discuss the project. Encourage them to ask:

  • What worked?
  • What didn’t work?
  • Did I learn a new approach?
  • What could we have done differently?
  • Did someone share something I had never thought of before? 

These questions encourage critical thinking. They also show the value of working together with others to solve a problem. Everyone has different ways of approaching a problem, and they’re all valuable.

Individual Reflection

One way to make math more approachable is to show how often math is used. Journaling math encounters can be a great way for students to see that math is all around. 

Ask them to add a little bit to their journal every day, even just a line or two. Where did they encounter math outside of class? Or what have they learned in class that has helped them at home? 

Zoomed in image of a student's hand writing in a journal

Math skills easily transfer outside of the classroom. Help them see how much they have grown, both in terms of academics and social emotional learning.

9. Making Math facts fun

As a teacher, you know math is anything but boring. But transferring that passion to your students is a tricky task. So how can you make learning math facts fun?

Play games! Math games are great classroom activities. Here are a few examples:

  • Design and play a board game.
  • Build structures and judge durability.
  • Divide into groups for a quiz or game show. 
  • Get kids moving and measure speed or distance jumped.

Even repetitive tasks can be fun with the right tools. That’s why engaging games are a great way to help students build essential math skills. When students play Prodigy Math Game, for example, they learn curriculum-aligned math facts without things like worksheets or flashcards. This can help them become excited to play and learn! 

How teachers can refine Math strategies

Sometimes trying something new can make a huge difference for your students. But don’t stress and try to change too much at once. 

You know your classroom and students best. Pick a couple of your favorite strategies above and try them out. 

If you're looking to freshen up your math instruction, sign up for a free Prodigy teacher account. Your students can jump right into the magic of the Prodigy Math Game, and you’ll start seeing data on their progress right away! 

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