Math was never fun for me in school. We used textbooks and worksheets all the time. The teacher solved problems on the board and we were supposed to take notes and pay attention. Then we would have to solve problems on the board. Rarely did we play math games or do anything fun. It wasn’t until I became a teacher, that math was fun for me. I realized that because math was never made interesting to me, I hated it. I wanted my students to love math and see its usefulness and value.
A few days ago, my STEM co-teacher and I created a mini-lesson to teach finding the volume of solids. We wanted to start out with a quick video introduction before moving onto a hands-on lesson. We decided to have the students work with a partner to create a three-dimensional shape using only paper, tape, and scissors. We wanted to limit their time so that they could focus on the task at hand. We then planned on having each group share their shape, the formula used for finding the volume of the particular shape, and a struggle they faced. We didn’t think it would be the best lesson in the world, but we thought that it would incorporate the problem-solving aspects of STEM. We wanted the whole lesson to take about 20 minutes. That was it.
So, we executed the lesson yesterday with amazing results. The boys loved the activity. Perhaps it was that they could work with a partner or maybe they enjoyed it because it was hands-on and engaging. One student came up to me during the activity and said, “I love this activity.” After basking in the glow of my awesomeness for a few moments, I mentally high-fived my co-teacher. They were doing math and having fun at the same time. What is going on? Was there a full moon the night before? The boys had so much fun solving this tangible problem.
This enthusiasm then bled over into the rest of the period as they began working on their math worksheet packets. As we want to prepare our sixth graders for the rigors of seventh grade, we decided to use this unit as a way for the students to get used to how math is taught in the seventh grade. The teachers use a math book and worksheets. So, for this unit, we have the students completing a packet of worksheets. Usually students do not enjoy math worksheets. However, since the boys were already so excited and engaged learning about geometry, they took to the worksheets like they were playing a fun computer game. During the work period, one of the students said, “I love math.” Another student said, “These worksheets are great for helping us work on our mental math skills.” It’s so awesome that the students are understanding the purpose behind what we are doing in the classroom without having to tell them. Wow! So cool.
Without even trying to make math super fun for our students, it ended up being super fun for our students. It was like a happy accident that didn’t result in childbirth. Sometimes, when we plan activities to engage and excite our students regarding math, they don’t always go well. It’s nice to know that without trying, our students are loving learning about math. Perhaps, over thinking when planning units and lessons about math isn’t always the best solution to make learning engaging and relevant for our students. Maybe it’s about presentation or time of day. Or maybe, it’s just all one big coincidence. Whatever the reasons, math can be fun for our students without even trying to make it fun.