Making mathematics fun and easy to learn for university students

Make mathematics fun and engaging by creating a warm and welcoming class environment and applying lessons to real-life contexts, Pattama Sornkao explains

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Siam University

Siam University
3 Apr 2022
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Make mathematics fun to learn
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Taking challenging courses requiring step-by-step instruction online

Advice for taking a course like maths requiring detailed step by step instruction online

Mathematics is a subject that students often perceive as difficult or boring. So, we were surprised when our course on “mathematics in daily life” attracted 150 students every semester. An evaluation of the teaching by students gave it a score of 4.47 out of 5. Students reported they had found the subject fun and the style of teaching made it feel less difficult than they had expected.

This inspired me to share some teaching tips on how to make mathematics fun and change perceptions of it as a subject to be avoided.

 

Make students feel at ease ahead of lessons starting

Before school starts, I create a chat group using the messaging app LINE for students enrolled on the course. The LINE chat group is the first channel through which I can communicate with students and offer advice on how to prepare before class. In the chat group, I post notes and send the documents for study both in PDF and JPEG formats to help the students.

To make the students feel welcome and dispel early nerves, I exchange greetings in friendly language, give advice and help solve any technical issues, since the course is conducted online. By reaching out early to form relationships and prepare students, instructors can reduce their stress or anxiety about upcoming classes.

Applying positive leadership strategies to the classroom

In the first lesson via Zoom, I start with a friendly conversation to create a warm atmosphere in the virtual classroom. I ask everyone how they are doing and have an informal chat about more general topics such as where people are studying from. This is one positive leadership strategy that instructors can use to create a welcoming learning environment which, in turn, directly influences students’ behaviour, encouraging them to participate and co-operate more readily in class. 

A second positive leadership strategy is to frequently pose questions about the content being taught, providing opportunities for students to check their understanding by attempting to answer or expressing opinions or concerns. If students can answer correctly, they have the confidence to progress in the topic while the wrong answer gives the instructor a chance to explain it again or in a different way until everyone has grasped the concept. This encourages students to view mistakes as a natural part of progression and boosts learning motivation.

Case studies bring mathematics to life

Choose case studies or maths content that is relevant to students so they all, regardless of their majors, can understand its application in daily life. For instance, knowledge of ratios and percentages can be useful when comparing prices, finding a discount on a product, calculating the interest in monthly instalment payments, adding to or subtracting ingredients from recipes, calculating taxes and utilities bills and sizing packaging.

Take percentages and its applications in daily life as an example topic. Start by teaching the maths theory, meanings and symbols relating to percentages. Then, introduce case study in which students purchase a car for £18,000 with a down payment of 25% of the car price, and the rest paid in monthly instalments, with finance companies charging an interest rate of 1.99% per year for a period of 48 months. Ask the students to find out what their monthly instalment payments to the finance company would be.

Explain the calculating principles then ask questions to encourage the students to process what they have learned and participate in finding answers. Once students have an initial answer, you can then pose questions to sharpen their thinking further. For instance, if you wish to pay instalments over a shorter period of 36 months, how many pounds per month would you have to pay?

After splitting the students into small groups, I give them 15 to 25 minutes to complete the task, then analyse the answers and let them present the results to the class. This sparks a discussion, enabling students to ask questions, check and express opinions. Finally, wrap up all the key points and explain the links with other day-to-day tasks and applications.

Using case studies takes mathematical concepts beyond formulas, pages of text and geometrical images, presenting them as useful real-world skills, which boosts student engagement and motivation.

Authentic assessment

Authentic assessment is based on several components of the course, including participating in classroom activities, individual assignments, and group work on case studies selected by students to demonstrate the application of mathematical knowledge in daily life. The assessment includes doing tests that emphasise implementation rather than complex calculations.

An example of an individual assignment for a module focused on “mathematics and things around us”, asks students to identify five pictures and write a description as to what and how the picture is related to mathematics. I do this using a form sent via the LINE group. Students enjoyed this task because it gave them a chance to use their imagination as well as their maths knowledge.

Pattama Sornkao is a lecturer in the Faculty of Science at Siam University.

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