4 small ways to build student confidence in math

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4 small ways to build student confidence in math

Developmental math is one of the biggest barriers to community college completion. In fact, a report from Complete College America found that fewer than 10% of students required to complete remedial courses before enrolling in for-credit courses graduated community college within three years.

68%

of teachers cite students’ lack of confidence in math as a factor preventing them from succeeding in the subject
of teachers cite students’ lack of confidence in math as a factor preventing them from succeeding in the subject

But a few small steps in the classroom can improve both students’ attitude and outcomes, writes Rachel Levy for Edutopia.

The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) recently asked more than 400 U.S. high school math teachers about their advice for teaching and building student confidence in math. After all, 68% of teachers cited students’ lack of confidence in math as a factor preventing them from succeeding in the subject.

“The good news is that students can have success in math class with the right effort, attitude, and behavior, regardless of a natural affinity or being ‘good at math,’” argues Michelle Montgomery of SIAM.

“The good news is that students can have success in math class with the right effort, attitude, and behavior, regardless of a natural affinity or being ‘good at math.'”

Michelle Montgomery, Project Director at SIAM

Here’s what the teachers recommend:

1: Encourage students to ask questions. According to 66% of surveyed teachers, it’s imperative that students not only pay attention in class, but also feel comfortable asking for clarification when they’re confused about a concept.

2: Forget memorization. Students shouldn’t just memorize and regurgitate formulas. Three out of four teachers agree that students need to not only understand math concepts, but also know when and how to apply them.

3: Apply math to real-world problems. More than half of surveyed teachers suggest students’ motivation to learn math is critical to their success in the subject. So making math relevant to students’ lives may increase their interest and motivate them to engage with the subject.

4: Talk math up. Avoid talking negatively about math. If your students hear you say that math is hard or useless, they might feel discouraged from persevering to learn a difficult concept, the teachers argue. Instead, assure your students that math is crucial for solving many of the problems our society faces.

One college that’s implementing some of these strategies is Seattle Central College. Seattle Central is focusing on teaching practical applications of statistics instead of algebra, using the Statway program created by the Carnegie Foundation. Statway incorporates the kind of statistics people encounter in everyday life, like those from polls and studies. “It’s more like real-life math,” one student told the Seattle Times. “It’s the first time I’ve ever used the word ‘interesting’ to describe a math class.”

And the approach seems to be paying off. Around 84% of Seattle Central students passed Statway in 2013-2014—compared with only 15% of students in the traditional math sequence.

In fact, according to one EAB study—which consisted of more than 200 research interviews and site visits with community college leaders, administrators, topic experts, faculty, and students—educators can improve student success in developmental math by making math relevant to students’ lives and future careers. For instance, the study recommends matching curriculum to career goals by building non-STEM developmental pathways and integrating developmental support with career training.

Sources: Complete College America report, accessed 5/8/19; EAB study, accessed 10/1/19; Levy, Edutopia, 7/6/18; Long, Seattle Times “Education Lab,” 9/5/15

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