Maths can be a huge challenge for many learners. Think back to your own classroom experience, desperately trying to stay abreast as your educator spewed out complicated math formulas and hard and fast methods.

desks and chairs in classroom
The traditional classroom isn't conducive to interactive learning. ⎢Source: Unsplash

For most of us, this has been our school math experience. Going over a specific concept again and again until the information was hardwired into our brains. However this isn’t necessarily the best technique for teaching math and can result in a sense of foreboding or boredom for a lot of students.

The truth is, there are so many math strategies out there.

Of late there’s been a greater increase into the research about how humans learn mathematics and take in new math ideas.

Keeping this in mind, the current math curriculum calls for very specific methods to be used in order to solve a math problem. Most of the time, learners are marked on how correctly they implement these methods and not only for getting the correct answer.

However, a good math tutor knows that that there’s more than one way to solve a math problem. Learners should be allowed to explore various math strategies to achieve the final answer. Children are robbed by educators when they are forced to stick to only one math method. Their lateral thinking, ingenuity and self-confidence are suppressed; all of which are crucial for successful learning.

It isn’t just about what you learn, but also how you do the learning. A learner that is given the freedom to discover a variety of math strategies and differentiate between what works for them, is bound to succeed at math.

Allow kids to make mistakes, discover basic math principles on their own and to embrace challenges. When a math tutor manages to get students inspired, great things happen. Your learners will believe that math is fun and they’ll believe in themselves too.

It‘s clear that poor math performance and incorrect math strategies are not the result of inaccurate information but rather the manner in which this information is conveyed within the math classroom setting. The evolution (or lack thereof) of mathematics education in South Africa is a very topical issue.

The ultimate goal for classroom mathematics should be to encourage an interactive learning experience by using a wide array of teaching methods and learning strategies. The floor for discussion between student and math teacher needs to be opened up in order to allow an atmosphere of discovery where children feel safe to explore as many angles to solving a math problem as they possibly can.  This will ensure that more learners become engaged in the math lesson, with the idea that fewer and fewer children find themselves lost and unable to catch up.

Let’s have a look a number of different options when it comes to presenting a math lesson, and making it a success. No matter the topic, from geometry and algebraic formulas to multiplication tables, there are so many strategies one can use to tackle any aspect of mathematics.

Use Math Strategies Inspired From Day to Day Life

When math is taught in schools, one of the factors that’s usually lacking is the connection between mathematics and everyday life. Let’s face it, math principles are all around us and no matter who you are or what you do, everyone uses math skills every day; whether it’s working out averages for your school grades or checking you got the right change.

Getting learners to realise how helpful math is in everyday life gives them a greater appreciation for what they are learning.

As a math tutor you have so much opportunity to demonstrate how cool math can be. Using fun math games and challenges to make the lesson more exciting is a great way to break the ice. Then you can go on to reinforcing math concepts by talking about situations where learners could put their new math skills to practice.

“What’s the point?” How many tutors have been asked this question?

I’m sure every math teacher can agree that kids struggle to see the relevance in convoluted math theorems and abstract math concepts. It’s the educator’s responsibility to make sure every math student understands the value in learning mathematics.

There are a myriad of math resources all around us that you can use to show learners why they need to understand math principles.

A great example is geometry. Geometric shapes can be identified all around us both in nature, technology and architecture. Take a walk outside and talk about different geometric shapes and their uses, children love outdoor math activities. Or you could discuss scenarios where math principles like area and volume would come in handy.

row of colourful huts
Find examples of geometry in your neighbourhood. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Then there’s money math that is vitally important to understand, even from a young age. Young children love to play shop. Let them spend a bit of time making pretend money and then give them time to practice exchanging money and using addition and subtraction as they give back change.

Turn a popular game into a mathematics game!

Practice math by pulling out a digital clock and talking about telling time. Then you could play some time games and talk about elapsed time. Remind learners about how important it is for everyone to have good number sense even for the most simple tasks.

As you allow your learners to realise how relevant math is for everyday living, the math principles they learn will come alive and be remembered with greater ease.

Learning by Seeing

For some students, learning is an impossible task without the aid of visual examples. Always supplement your explanations of new math topics with stimulating visual aids.

It’s important to make use of all the senses when giving a lesson. Too often, new math concepts are introduced in the wrong manner often because of the lack of math resources in many schools. Math teachers are forced to deliver mostly spoken instruction and hand out math worksheets, having little time for other teaching approaches when they are managing large classes. In these cases it’s impossible to plan lessons according to individual learning styles.

For this reason, a lot of people are opting for private tuition. Learners are in desperate need of additional help and customised teaching approaches that are conducive to their learning style. It’s important to break away from the traditional school-style math lesson and try out various tactics until you discover the most effective way to teach your math learner.

You could start by using visual based learning to supplement your math lessons. Think of posters, diagrams, educational broadcasts, sketches etc.

school children creating mind map
Use visual aids such as diagrams to keep math lessons engaging. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Basically, it's about allowing the math student to visualise whatever math concept they are learning. Visual aids don’t have to be elaborate. It could be as simple as sketching out a story sum scenario and thereby making math fun. As the learners see the solution unfold, they begin to comprehend the new idea being presented to them.

It’s common knowledge that when children see as well as hear, the learning experience is so much more successful.

Don’t just keep to the same visual aid either, change things up. That way you are guaranteed to keep kids excited to see what happens next!

Using Fun Mathematics Games to Reinforce Math Principles

The options are endless when it comes to alternative teaching aids. Be adventurous and explore a variety of options, remembering that visual aids are only one of the many learning methods and children thrive on all types of sensory stimulation.

Consider supplementing a regular lesson with a few quick math games or perhaps you could provide your student with a math puzzle to do as homework. Things like this will pique their curiosity and really hold their attention. There are plenty of online games and math programs to choose from too. Some of these options can also be very effective revision tools when preparing for math exams or assessments, especially as children start losing momentum towards the end of a school term.

Many of the online tools are geared specifically towards prepping kids for the requirements of the national curriculum, which is wonderful because it can be a trusted supplement. Cammi Math is a popular choice when it comes to computer based mathematics games. This is a great programme that is CAPS aligned and recommended by the Department of Education.

students working on laptop
There are so many great math resources online. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Math puzzles and board games that are tactile are an excellent, fun learning tool for younger children. The physical aspect of play promotes creativity and co-ordination. Tangrams are fantastic traditional Chinese math puzzles that help with learning symmetry and shapes. And there's nothing like a game of snakes and ladders to practice counting and keep things fun!

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 Continuously Measure Learners' Progress

No one likes the idea of getting tested, but there is value in the much used phrase “continuous assessment” when it's done in the right manner. Despite all the assessment within the school environment, it’s still your responsibility as a private tutor to keep abreast with your math student’s progress.

Because math is a methodical process that relies on a solid foundation in one concept in order to succeed in the next, it’s so important to keep on track and measure your student’s ability frequently.

These moments of assessing needn’t be intimidating experiences. It’s best to keep the atmosphere light and have a relaxed approach. After all, the point of the exercise is about measuring math knowledge, not success. It’s up to you what kind of format you use. And of course it must be applicable to the age, education level and personality of the learner.

Remember that assessing your students is just as much about assessing yourself and figuring out where there might be gaps in your math strategies and lesson plans.

Make sure your learner understands that there's always room for improvement and this is the point of any test.

From mathematics games to math puzzles and new teaching methods, there is so much you can consider using for the following lesson you are preparing for. Most importantly, remind your students that fun math is the best math!

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Kyla