15 ideas for promoting positive attitudes to maths

Author: Olivia Tanner
Published: 04/08/2020

Positive maths teaching and learning

  1. Be aware of your own attitude towards maths. Negative attitudes towards maths can easily trickle down from parents, teachers and peers. Eliminate the ‘I can’t do maths’ phrase from your vocabulary and show students that everyone is capable of doing and enjoying maths.
  2. Encourage mistakes. Help students to see that mistakes are positive learning opportunities, not something to be embarrassed about. Students often worry about not doing something the right way, which prevents them from trying. Encourage students to explore problems and reassure them that it’s okay to get stuck - perseverance, resilience and determination are all key skills that will help students problem solve in the future.
  3. Start with what they know. Boost students’ self-esteem by starting with what they already know. Try questioning them further on topics they are already comfortable with to extend their knowledge.
  4. Thread maths into the rest of the curriculum. It is important to show how numeracy and problem-solving skills are built into every subject, to help students practise these skills and demonstrate the uses of maths outside of a maths lesson. Integrate maths into your art lessons; use ratio to mix paints, create some symmetrical artwork and show the enlargement of 3D shapes using perspective.
  5. Play maths games. By playing engaging and interesting maths games that students enjoy, you can help to overcome initial negative attitudes by putting maths into a context they enjoy and look forward to. This can be a mix of oral and mental games, physical board games, online activities and games and quizzes on apps.
  6. Keep it varied. Remember that all students respond to different methods and representations of concepts. What works for one student might not work for the student next to them. Ensure you have a variety of methods at your fingertips to help all students access the skill you are working on.
  7. Make the connection between maths and real life. Show that maths isn’t just something confined to the classroom. Maths is all around us so don’t forget to point out the connections with real everyday examples.
  8. Practise, practise, practise. Reinforcing the basic maths principles is one of the best ways to improve a student’s confidence. Practising maths will help develop their fluency and recall, impacting on other areas of the maths curriculum they might be struggling with.
  9. Praise the process, not just the result. The answer may not be quite right but if the correct process has been followed to get there then that’s more than half the battle. Encourage students to work in stages and show all their working so, when they reach an incorrect answer, they can trace their steps back and rectify their error.
  10. Get competitive. Use contests to motivate students as they compete against each other individually or in teams, against other classes in school or even your local area. Competitions like the Maths Week London Contest encourage schools to practise maths in a way that is fun, engaging and competitive. After all, students love a bit of healthy competition - especially when they could be in with the chance of becoming London’s Maths Champions!
  11. Showcase some maths magic. There are lots of great maths tricks out there that will wow any student. Kids will love to surprise their friends and family with new maths tricks they've learned.
  12. Make the question easier. If students have a hard question they don't know how to deal with, encourage them to use easy numbers or tackle just part of the question. Round numbers like 10 or 100 can make the problem seem a lot easier to deal with. Pupils can then go back to the original numbers once they understand it.
  13. Define the next steps. It can be helpful for students to know what they need to work on in order to reach the next step in understanding. Giving students ownership over their own learning encourages a more positive, can-do attitude.
  14. Stretch and extend. Make sure that those students who are excelling in a particular topic are challenged appropriately. It’s important that, when students do grasp a topic, they are able to investigate more broadly to make sure they stay focused and don’t switch off!
  15. Use what students love. If you have students gripped by a certain video game or the latest film, don’t be afraid to incorporate this into your lesson. Work out ways in which you can use parts of the narrative to set maths challenges and get them to solve the problems.

Olivia Tanner

Olivia Tanner works for Maths Week London.