It’s tough to do math without sets, sums, and multipliers, so it stands to reason that it’d be tough to learn math solo, outside of a group.
Indeed, research shows that math is best learned in a community. In this post, we’ll explain why that is, what it looks like in a classroom, and how you can create a community for your math students.
What math community means: Creative classroom ideas
There are many types of math communities: online interest groups, professional organizations, the Mathletes.
In the context of a math classroom, a math community refers to the collaborative environment a teacher can create using both math strategies and social strategies (and by involving students’ parents and guardians). In a robust math community, all students feel comfortable sharing ideas, asking questions, and engaging in mathematical conversations.
In other words, math communities are student-centered. Rather than delivering information, teachers guide students. They encourage students to explore math concepts, make connections to the real world, and ask questions—of each other, and the teacher.
And in a math community, wrong answers aren’t dismissed—in fact, they’re an essential part of the learning process. In our webinar What Amazing K–12 Math Looks Like, educator and director of research at Desmos, Dan Meyer underlines the importance of students understanding “the value in their thinking—which means the value in their wrong answers.”
Benefits of math community: Equity in schools and more
A community-oriented math classroom can help each student learn, and all students learn. Here’s how.
- Increased engagement. When students feel a sense of belonging and connection in their math class, they’re more likely to be engaged and motivated. By promoting open discussions, group activities, and cooperative problem-solving, teachers can help students—even those who don’t think they’re “math people”—develop a genuine interest in math.
- Reduced math anxiety. Math anxiety affects at least 20% of students. It can hinder their growth in math and beyond. But in a supportive math community—where different styles and wrong answers are considered part of the process—those students can thrive. Embracing and working from incorrect answers encourages students to focus on the “how” of math, and to participate without fear of getting it wrong. They feel more comfortable asking questions, taking risks, and making mistakes as well as learning from them.
- Improved communication skills. In a math community, all students get the chance to communicate their mathematical thinking and reasoning. Explaining their ideas to others and listening to their classmates enhances their speaking and writing skills—in math, and across other subjects, too.
- Learning from diverse perspectives. A supportive math classroom community allows students from different backgrounds and with varying abilities to contribute to class and feel valued. Encouraging—and observing—the sharing of diverse perspectives fosters critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills.
- Positive reinforcement. A strong math community creates an environment where students feel valued, respected, included, and supported. It’s fertile ground for a growth mindset, one in which students believe they actually can do math regardless of challenges or errors. A math community encourages risk-taking, resilience, and perseverance—in math, and beyond.
How to engage students in math lessons that build community
Want to know how to make math fun and build community? Here are some ways to get started.
- Encourage collaboration. Promote a culture of cooperation and teamwork by incorporating group activities, peer support, and class discussions into your lessons.
- Celebrate brilliance. Recognize a variety of efforts, insights, and accomplishments among students—including taking risks, and making mistakes. This will motivate all students to appreciate different ways of learning and the value of both process and product.
- Personalize support. Offering individualized help to students who need it shows commitment to their success and builds a supportive environment for everyone.
- Develop a growth mindset. Create a culture where mistakes are inevitable, even welcomed, as part of the learning process. Encourage perseverance and persistence.
- Choose meaningful tasks. Assign problems with real-world relevance. Working together to solve them helps students see the “why” of math—and connect with each other in the process.
- Play. Game-ifying problems and introducing friendly competition builds camaraderie and helps students find shared joy in math—a win-win!