So maths isn’t number one on the list of all time favourites, but it tops the charts when it comes to the subjects that are on an average performance decline. For young and old, math is a dreaded challenge.

Whether it’s the basics of multiplication tables, or grappling with trigonometry, it seems that every math student in the history of time has hit a bump in the road. From Grade R to Matric and beyond - math is not for the fainthearted.

Wandering around at break time it’s highly unlikely that you’d overhear a bunch of kids raving on about how great math is. In fact, if it just so happened that math period was right after break, the atmosphere would probably be a little heavy, right?

Kids just don’t seem to see the fun in maths. And can we blame them?

Why Is Maths so Unpopular?

Mathematics in school tends to be on the boring side. This is primarily due to the teaching style that has been adopted over the years. Instead of being a subject filled with boundless possibility, classroom math has turned into a series of repeated methods and math principles. Learners are taught to follow specific rules in order to achieve the correct answer.

Maths is on the decline and it’s become a national crisis.

According to this recent article, “Half of all South African pupils who attended school for five years can’t do basic calculations.”

It’s become apparent that poor academic achievement is a direct result of the inadequate training of educators in South Africa and that a large percentage of teachers have weaker skill sets and less knowledge than the standards expected from their learners. This has an enormous impact on the younger learners who are meant to be receiving a sound foundation for mathematics.

The worry is that if the mathematics standards at foundation and intermediate phase are so poor, the strong learners moving on to senior and FET phase who are potential mathematicians, will not be adequately prepared for the level of work expected from them. This will have a ripple effect on the quality of teachers our nation is producing.

You, the Math Tutor, Can Save the Day

So, we can see why math tutors are becoming so popular. Private tutors are necessary for students who are struggling with mathematics, and also invaluable for stronger learners that need extra challenges in order to nurture their natural abilities.

colourful abacus
Focus on the fundamentals to ensure successful math tutoring. ⎢Source: Unsplash

When there is someone tutoring you in your own space and at your own pace, the wonder of mathematics can open up to even the most hesitant learner. It becomes about the student, there’s no one else to compare to, which is a big relief for many children.

Being a private math tutor gives you the opportunity to show children the fun in maths by structuring math lessons in a way that will really engage them.

The key is to constantly reinforce the relevance of mathematics in everyday life.

If you want to get your learners excited about math, it’s important to consider the following:

  • How do I show my learner that maths is fun?
  • How could I help them conquer their anxieties linked to learning maths?
  • What teaching strategies can I experiment with?
  • What fun math activities and math puzzles would they enjoy?
  • Am I making use of the right math resources to aid the learning process?

A private math tutor has the difficult task of helping learners overcome their fears and feelings of inadequacy. These emotions will only hold them back from achieving excellent results. Ultimately they need to be shown the fun in learning maths.

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How to Motivate Learners by Showing Them the Fun in Maths

Often the biggest challenges arise from the simple things. When learners struggle to comprehend the fundamentals of mathematics, it will make advanced math topics an overwhelming task and leave children feeling helpless.

You have the opportunity to get kids excited for maths by putting abstract math concepts into context. Your aim should be to show learners the fun in math and how it’s there to help us in our everyday lives.

No matter if you are teaching math to a learner in the foundation phase or preparing someone for FET, there are math strategies for every learning area and level. The key is finding what ignites your learner’s interest and meeting them at their level.

Invest some time in getting to know your learner. Find out which aspects of mathematics are a struggle for them. Perhaps it’s the teaching methods in the classroom at their school or it could simply be that they aren’t achieving the results they want in their math assessments.

Some learners may struggle with basic concepts like fractions that in turn affect the rest of their work. It could be a battle to understand and memorise all the theorems in geometry. No matter the challenge, you are there to fix it. When you’ve narrowed it down, you can start exploring how to demonstrate that maths is fun no matter what!

Young children learn through play, this is a crucial aspect of teaching that is often overlooked. Math puzzles and fun math playground games are a great place to start. Simple games like tic tac toe drawn with chalk on the paving get children engaged and open the floor to talk about math concepts like addition and subtraction. Learn dance steps by counting with the beat. There’s no end to the ideas once you get the creative juices flowing!

Simply by doing maths in a new setting, like playground math, you give kids a new perspective on a subject that they may otherwise find dull. No matter what teaching strategy you choose, from playing shop and learning money math to following recipes and learning measurement; the point is to highlight how useful and fun math is.

There is an endless supply of brilliant ideas on the web and all around us. Focus on noting which math games and activities your learners really responded to and continue shaping your lessons to their individual needs.

Be a Math Tutor That Soothes Worries and Ignites Dreams

The amount of students who have a hostile attitude towards mathematics is astounding.

If you were to ask most people you might find that this sense of foreboding stems from negative experiences with classroom mathematics in their formative years.

It’s your job as a math tutor to ensure this pattern is not repeated.

Having the ability to visualise how certain math concepts operate is important if you want to embed a topic into a child’s memory. It’s vital to keep this in mind when you are tutoring.

The use of visual aids is integral when it comes to introducing new concepts. Find or make diagrams, videos or models to demonstrate ideas to your students in a more tangible way. And help them to realise how these new math concepts can be of use in real life situations.

Remember the Power of Words

Teaching isn’t just about relaying information; sometimes we forget how much influence our words have on our learners. As a math tutor you have the opportunity to set the tone and introduce new math concepts in a positive and inspiring manner that will create an atmosphere where students believe they can excel.

jar of coins
Young children always seem to enjoy money games. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Mathematics is a language in itself. For many people, learning a foreign language can seem overwhelming. So just imagine trying to translate numbers and symbols into words. Think of how you can translate the number language of maths in a way that children don’t get confused.

Making this connection between language and numbers will give kids the confidence to believe they can understand new math concepts and get them eager to tackle obstacles.

The goal is to make sure that at the end of the day, your learners are responding to the idea of maths with positive emotions and that they firmly believe that maths is fun.

Teaching Strategies for Maths

We know everyone learns in a different way. Figure out what triggers your students’ curiosity and work with that. From sports to online games, meet them where they are comfortable.

There is so much to choose from when it comes to learning material. Don’t be intimidated; experiment until you find the methods and material that work best for your math student.

Consider your learners’ natural abilities and spontaneous interests. Always see how you can incorporate these aspects into a math lesson.

It helps to use visual aids, especially for creative learners that have active imaginations, this kind of material keeps them engaged.

If you know of a specific passion that a learner might have, perhaps a flair for music or cooking; you could create a theme that runs through your lesson plans. It could even be something as simple as their favourite cartoon or sport.

If a learner is musically inclined you could really use this to your (and their) advantage, remembering that music is extremely mathematical and very much about balance and symmetry. Ask them to teach you how to read some music or let them teach you a song; this will give them a sense of empowerment and confidence.

If they enjoy being in the kitchen, get kids to pick out a recipe for their next homework assignment and then work together to plan a cooking lesson. Show them how important accurate quantities are in order for a recipe to work, just like accuracy is necessary in working out math sums. You could discuss volume and measurement, the list is endless!

The main thing is to figure out what every student’s learning style is. Finding what works for them could eradicate years of frustration and confusion and lead them to an understanding of how to learn. Teach them strategies they can use to study and remind them that there are many ways to solve a math problem.

Most of the time children are required to not only get the right answer but also to use the correct method. This can be extremely disheartening for youngsters who are good at mental math but struggle memorising long winded methods as they seem so unnecessary.

Explain that there is nothing wrong with how they work things out but that you want to help them do their best in assessments. Really practise the necessary methods with them until they are comfortable. This will mean accurate research on your part to ensure you are helping them to fulfil all the CAPS requirements.

Tips for Online Tutoring

Online tutoring can be more challenging because it is less personal. This kind of teaching also limits you to alternative options such as physical games or board games.

You’ll have to pay attention to keeping your lessons uncomplicated and use resources that can easily be used on camera. Communication is vital and you don’t want to hinder the learning process by creating distractions on screen. Keep boosting the learners’ confidence and reassuring them of their progress while keeping your math lessons structured.

In the case of online tutoring, online math games and interesting websites will be an essential part of your teaching strategies. Preparing math exercises before the lesson begins is always a good idea as you can work on the problems along with your student and make the most of your time online.

mom and child baking
Use a cooking lesson to talk about math concepts like measurement. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Being an online tutor has its challenges but there are also great benefits. Be sure that your learners don’t miss out and that you make an effort to record your lessons for them to go back to as a reference. Making this easy for your students will encourage them to work on their mathematics in their own time and reinforce what you have taught them.

Help Kids Learn Through Play

Children in the foundation and intermediate phases are still very keen to play. This means you have a lot more options when it comes to choosing fun math games and activities. The truth is that playing is so important for children’s learning and development that you can’t really go wrong.

The main thing is to show them the fun in maths. Remember that your sense of fun and love for mathematics will have a big influence on how they feel about the subject.

Demonstrate to your learners how much they will need mathematics as they go about their day to day lives. Play out scenarios in the form of games to stimulate their learning.

When it comes to choosing which games to use, there is no right or wrong game. Try out different math puzzles or play their favourite card game. There is nothing like a game of Monopoly to discuss money math and the winner could be awarded a treat at the end of the lesson.

Fun math activities like board games are effective because of the visual and physical aspect of the activity. This same principle can be used in a variety of ways, from telling time on a real clock to learning fractions by cutting up an orange.

Teaching money math to young learners is always fun. You could get them to make their own shops and design paper money or you could turn it into an outing and go to a real shop where they can practise addition and subtraction and make sure they get the right change.

You could add some extra challenges as learners become more advanced and design coupons or have a sale where they could practise percentages with discounted items.

Using Online Tools to Everyone’s Advantage

Online math games are a wonderful resource too. More information and links to various sites are detailed later in this post. Some of the activities are like math puzzles or speed tests. When you are tutoring online, it’s a nice way to connect with your learner. You can talk about their latest top score and exchange links to new fun math sites.

There is a lot of scope as an online math tutor to come up with your own learning platform. Create a space where your students can access recordings of previous lessons and perhaps even written notes. Think about having quizzes amongst the different students just to spice things up a bit and create a sense of interactive learning.

Focusing on the playful aspect of learning mathematics is important because you want to inspire kids to love and enjoy maths. There is so much focus on performance that it pays off to contrast regular school work with a sense of fun.

teaching helping girl with laptop
Use technology to get learners excited about maths.⎢Source: Unsplash

There are loads of awesome math apps to choose from. They come in all kinds of formats from math puzzles to times table games and brain teasers. But it’s always good to do your homework and try them out yourself before recommending something to your students.

The nice thing is that these apps can be downloaded on any device and kids can practise their maths wherever they are. Once you find the right age-appropriate maths app that addresses a problem area or aids in assessment preparation, your learners will be well equipped to learn to love math!

Most of these applications are free or relatively inexpensive and are a wonderful educational alternative to video games that many parents will appreciate.

Great Mathematics Sites on the Web

Math tutors are always looking for extra resources to supplement lessons and fortunately we have plenty of wonderful online options at our fingertips.

Digital devices and the web can be helpful for both educator and learner. For the math tutor it’s a constantly evolving modern library of useful information and for the learner it’s a ceaseless source of stimulating learning material.

The Department of Education has a wide variety of maths resources that assist in CAPS preparation. This site is more focused on assisting the educator and outlining the basic requirements.

However, if you are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material on the internet then it’s definitely worth your while having a look at Midhub (Mathematical Information Delivery Hub).

This site, created by a band of South African mathematics professors, functions exactly as the name implies. It’s an information hub that math educators can rely on for direction to relevant and quality teaching aids focused on the senior and FET phase.

Again, remember that you can compile your own unique archive of math tools by recording lessons and saving notes, worksheets, math puzzles etc. to an online platform like Google Drive. This way, students can have access to learning material that you know is reliable, consistent and hassle free.

Consider recording your lessons and using this material to create your very own clips.

You could even get your students to help you edit and make it a collaborative project that can be published on YouTube.

Of course, not all of us are keen content creators; and fortunately YouTube is already full of fantastic material for math tutors and students alike. You could compile a list of links to videos that you feel will be beneficial to your math students.

Learners in the senior and FET phase could really enjoy some interesting lectures. TED talks is a wonderful place to find bite-size lectures by professionals from all walks of life. These talks are often completely inspirational and all of them are fascinating. It’s a great way to open up the narrow perception that learners can have about mathematics, especially when they see young mathematicians talking passionately about their careers.

It’s clear that there are plenty of new ways to engage your math students when you explore all the online options out there. The emerging generation of learners are geared towards technology and using this as a teaching tool alongside conventional methods is essential for cultivating a love for math.

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