George Lucas Educational Foundation

How Motivation Can Help Reluctant Kids Learn Mathematics

How Motivation Can Help Reluctant Kids Learn Mathematics

More Related Discussions
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

There is a serious concern about high school students not seriously focused on education.  The latest report of the National Council of Center on Education Policy stated that forty percent of high school students are chronically disengaged.
These alarming results are evident from data found in Houston colleges and universities. Seventy-five percent of high school graduates are not ready for college Mathematics courses.  College/university policy, is that college entry level students need to take remediation classes, and pass the final test; before they can actually begin to take College Algebra..  The teaching of basic Algebra and all high school Math courses is a challenging task.
                Motivating students to learn the concept is the biggest issue in the Math classroom.
Curzor stated that motivation, in terms of education, refers to a person’s aroused desire for participation in the learning process. (Teaching in Fourth Education).   He stated further that for motivation to take place in the classroom, these four cycles must be present:  interest, need, attitude, and aspiration.
                As a Math teacher, I can interpret what these four cycles mean to.  If one of the four aspects is present, at the student point of view, they are motivated when:

everyday teaching

a) They feel competent enough to complete the task at hand;
                       If they can connect prior knowledge to present concept to be learned, learning will eventually take place.  For instance, they will be able to do rigorous problem solving after knowing how to solve simple one- step equation leading to more complex problem solving.  Building confidence is the key in learning Mathematics, which is like looping individual chain to the next chain link.  Once there is a missing link or weakest link, it is hard for them to keep going.
b)They see a direct link between their action and outcome and they have control over whether or how to undertake the task.
                If they see a link between the concept at hand and their everyday life situation, they are more likely to think they need to understand and learn how to apply it. One instance is in shopping.  It was advertised that everything in a certain store is 25% off.  Students need to figure out if they have enough to pay for their purchase. If teachers can make connections and make learning relevant to the students, it will make sense for the students to try to learn how to do the task, than just simply passive participants in their own learning.
c) When the task has interest or value to them;  
                We value things at different levels, like the students weigh things or prioritize things.  Some may be motivated to further their education, go to college, and pass the SAT, ACT exams.  Others may have immediate need to apply what they learn to a job.
d)When completing the task bring social reward; a sense of belonging to a group or approval from someone they care about.
Another motivating factor is the students’ desire for acceptance.  If there is a social reward for finishing the task, they’re more likely to learn by doing it and be recognized for their efforts.


Teachers with strong desire and who are passionate about their job as an educator can encourage student participation to learn.  Teachers who have an agenda for student success, carry their personal will towards a certain end…students’ success.   The desire to accomplish that end is the prime motivation for a self-determined person.  For students to obtain this character trait, teachers need to be an example.  “Teach by modeling” so to speak, although we believe that individuals develop self-determination on their own, but this trait must be modeled by someone they respect or care about.


                To have a lasting motivation to succeed in school, students need to experience an internal reward from accomplishment on task, in contrast to external reward which is unlikely to hold out overtime.
                My internal reward for learning is what drives me to be a living example to my students.   My motivation was centered on how I can get
Education and end an era of deprivation.  My great grandparents were deprived of needs.   What they had was barely survival skills. I believed in this saying   “Give man a fish, he will live for a day, but teach him how to fish and he will live for a lifetime” Anonymous.    These skills I am equipping my students will help them for the rest of their lives, they may not see it right away but someday they will reap the benefits of their efforts just like me.

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

Comments (2) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Don Doehla, MA, NBCT's picture
Don Doehla, MA, NBCT
2015 California Language Teacher of the Year, Co-Director Berkeley WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

@Lisa - thank you for sharing your ideas with us Lisa. I agree that we could do MUCH more to engage students with their own learning. In fact, I think that "disengagement" or "apathy" is one of the biggest challenges we face. We live in a world of choices, all competing for our attention. Students face those choices as well, and there are certainly far more intriguing things calling for their attention than many of the things we have traditionally offered to them in class! A big driving questions for all teachers today could be worded like this: "How can I create meaningful, real-world learning experiences for my students which will engage them, and equip them for life?"

Your four points are spot on! We can do much to bolster the confidence of our students. Many do not naturally sense all that they can do. I wonder how often students have been encouraged to take risks and met with negative responses when their risk-taking has resulted in wrong answers? We need to encourage risk taking, not stifle it.

If what we are teaching is of any value at all, we should be able to find real-world connections to add validity to the content. You teach maths, but I teach French. Long ago I gave up on traditional approaches to learning another language! No one ever says to me that they remember how to speak French because they could conjugate a verb in multiple tenses! They do, however, beam with glee when they can ask and answer questions, order from a menu, ask directions and arrive at their destination, or read a poem, song lyrics or a story, and understand! I am sure that there are parallels in maths - that is your point!

Real-world, real-life, engaging, relevant learning will beat out SnapChat, I am sure. I appreciate your note, and wonder what others might add to extend our conversation. I look forward to hearing more? What do you have to add out there in Edutopialand?


Jeffrey05206236's picture

Great thoughts there Lisa. Mathematics is a very peculiar subject, it is either your most favorite subject or your least favorite subject. It never stands in between. And the children who dislike maths will eventually start having a fear for the subject.
Singapore is one of the top countries in math studies and their way of learning using a unique system of model drawing for numerical problem solving is said to be very effective. This method is adopted in some schools like the Sunnybrook School in Toronto. They follow this method in teaching maths upto Grade 6. And it has proven effective in reaching out to students much better than the ordinary way of teaching.

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.