Math is oftentimes a difficult and frustrating subject for elementary students and parents, so making math come alive is vital. Gone are the days of the rote memory and fact recall activities that plagued our math classrooms for decades. Today, in the 21st century, students are facing the same mathematics content as in the past (fractions, numeration, geometry, data and statistics, algebraic thinking), but in a totally different context—a world that calls for communication, teamwork, and application. This is much more involved than in previous times.

This context requires a more hands-on application-based approach to teaching and learning to make the math come alive. The idea of using everyday items such as playing cards, dominoes, gaming formats, and manipulatives is not a new one, although there are some new ways gaming-type activities use these items to help boost math scores and help alleviate some of the frustration and mundaneness many students and parents feel about the learning of math. Moreover, these activities help boost students’ math scores.

Common Core Standards for Math

Making Math Come Alive! Teaching with individual worksheets is not advantageous in a world that calls for communication, teamwork, and application. New curriculums developed to align with Common Core Standards call for a deeper look into the “why” behind the math.

These curriculums also call for the modeling of math through practice with games and manipulatives that make student modeling of problem solving the highlight of math classrooms.. Activities that enhance the thinking process in math automatically engage students and lead to increased motivation.

This focus is evident in the easy to use activities found in the book, Strategies and Activities for Common Core Math: Grades 3-5, which calls for a deeper look into the “why” behind the math and the modeling of math through practice with games and manipulatives. Using activities that enhance the thinking process automatically engages students and leads to increased motivation in math.

According to most research in the area of mathematics, motivation is lacking in the elementary math classroom, which is a key ingredient in the learning context (NCTM, 2000). The use of physical and visual representations of numbers is much more effective in teaching problem solving (Fuch & Fuchs, 2001).

Teaching students to solve word problems is tedious and is often left out of the curriculum. In the real world, life itself is a word problem! Teachers need to help students learn to approach real situational problems from several avenues, as well as to be willing to offer and support differing solutions. Learning math must be fun, engaging, and motivational, if we are to move students forward into fields that involve reasoning and increased global skills.Making Math Come Alive!

Strategies for Making Math Come Alive

Using strategies supported by gaming is a great way to motivate students in elementary school to learn math content. The amount of practice that comes out of using a single mathematics skill in a game is far greater than the completion of many math worksheets. The degree of student satisfaction from a gaming experience far outweighs that of completing a worksheet.

Educators everywhere are seeking ways to help students communicate the language of mathematics, engage in modeling of content, and foster motivation. Research on gaming techniques suggests that this strategy fosters mathematics communication and vocabulary development, boosts self-esteem, and increases student confidence in their math abilities. Games can teach if they are developed with instructional and conceptual practices in mind and include materials that are accessible to teachers and students.

The use of such everyday materials as cards, dice, and dominoes appears to have great effects on students’ approach to learning math content. If students’ fears are extinguished, they tend to excel and take risks without reluctance.

My new book, Strategies and Activities for Common Core Math: Grades 3-5 includes many teaching strategies “disguised” as games. The activities are designed to strengthen student math skills, increase the motivational aspects of the learning process, promote critical thinking through modeling, and enhance communication about math content.  The book helps teachers ensure that they are addressing all the Common Core Standards for Mathematics in those grades, using an approach that students respond to and enjoy.

Read more about Common Core Standards


Shirley DisslerDr. Shirley Disseler currently serves as Assistant Professor of Elementary and Middle Grades Education at High Point University in North Carolina  Having taught both elementary and middle grades mathematics, as well as having served in the areas of Academically Gifted Education and Curriculum Development, Dr. Disseler has received numerous awards for teaching. She currently serves as a Lego Education Specialist for Lego Denmark and US, serves on the editorial boards of several journals, and is published in the Centroid Magazine. She is the author of Strategies and Activities for Common Core Math: Grades 3-5.

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