“I hate math. Why do I need to learn this? I don’t see how this is going to help me in real life.” As a former math teacher, these statements broke my heart, but educators must consider these objections to math when finding the best ways to teach students. STEM is a great way to show students how math is integrated with other subjects and everyday life.

Math is an important concept to understand. We use math every day, but most students aren’t exposed to slope, coordinates, or angles in real life. If students don’t see the value in learning math, how do we expose them to mathematical concepts that will resonate?

When thinking about using STEM as an alternative way to teach math, I always consider the following:

  • How do we pique students’ interest?
  • How do we keep students engaged?
  • How can learning through discovery solidify math concepts?
  • How do we get them to embrace the struggle?

How do we pique students’ interest?

Students tend to be more invested in learning when the concepts can be connected to something they care about. Your lesson doesn’t need to be solely based off of students exact interest, but I recommend throwing in a couple examples or activities that they would recognize and want to engage with.

Below is a list of things many students I worked with found most interesting:

  • Music
  • Sports
  • Social Media
  • Traveling
  • Technology

All of these topics listed have one thing in common: STEM. Although these topics are great starting points for planning lessons, garnering interest does nothing if the content isn’t engaging for students.

How do we keep students engaged?

After introducing the topic area, getting students to interact with the material is the hardest part. When I was teaching, I found that the best way to keep my students focused was to really get to know them, so that I could make my lessons worthwhile.

Research shows that “inquiry-based instructions generate the interest and excitement needed to set students up for a lifetime of curiosity and self-driven learning, the hallmarks of success in the new economy”.

EVERFI’s online resource, FutureGoals: Hockey Scholar, allows students to be excited and build curiosity as they explore area, angles, lines, and more on their own through an interactive game of hockey.

How can learning through discovery solidify math concepts?

The best part about watching students struggle and work through a math concept is to see their creativity and hear their discoveries. Each student learns differently, and there isn’t one way to teach math, so we should let students discover what works best for them.

Students can do this through project-based learning. PBL is where students work on a project that engages them in solving real-world problems or answer complex questions. Encourage students to pick a topic that is interesting to them, so that they are excited to find the best solution. Here are some ideas that I’ve seen:

EVERFI’s resource Endeavor, shows students how math and technology are used in different careers that they may not even know have to do with STEM. In one portion of the resource, students need to analyze data in order to predict user preferences and recommendations for web purchases.

How do we get them to embrace the struggle?

Students need to feel empowered to take their education into their own hands. Building off the idea of project-based learning, one way to empower students is to create STEM groups. I recommend grouping students and allowing them to pick a topic together. Encourage students to collaborate to explain how the topic relates to STEM, and where they might see these concepts in real-life. Make sure to approve their chosen topic before they start.

Once a skill is developed, we should give students the independence to try and find their own solutions. A quote that I had hanging in my classroom was “Try, Fail, Try again, Discover!” This was a reminder to my students that math is about trying different methods to find your own solutions. While there is a standard way to teach basic math, STEM is a great way for students to see how math is used in everyday life.

Chantal is a Program Coordinator on the EVERFI K-12 Team, working with teachers in the Mid-Atlantic region. She used to be a 7th grade special education teacher. She loves sports and listening to music.

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