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Do You Have Reluctant Math Students?

We all have students that are reluctant to learn during math. They either find it too difficult, boring or don’t see the point!

girl with blocks spelling math

It can be hard to turn this attitude around by the time students are in Year 4 and above. I found that they needed something to bring back the excitement, often in a way where to start with they don’t actually think that they are incorporating mathematical skills.

Some Ways to Bring Back the Excitement


STEM is all the buzz right now and for good reason too, it allows busy teachers to incorporate many subject areas into one task. Students also find that they often forget they are 'learning' the math and science skills, as they are focused on the technology side. They then ask for assistance to work out the math skill required as it is needed to help them complete the project, making it meaningful and relevant to them.

STEM can easily include elements of math for instance; budgeting, estimating, measuring, comparing, re-designing, area & perimeter, fractions of materials etc.


I have yet to be in a class where the idea of a competition - especially boys vs girls doesn't peek some interest with reluctant math learners. You might have set problems they have to solve: first ones finished, best range of strategies used, best explanation of how they solved it, best team problem solving etc. You could score this via a points/ tally system to include more math talk, and even possibly graph the weekly results. My students love when I turn the learning into a game. Their newest fav, is when I write up two questions on the board and ask them the 'would you rather' question. It gets even my most reluctant learners hooked. An example is 'would you rather... $300 given to you once, or $5 each day for the next 90 days?'

Real Life Math

Students love the idea of feeling grown up and completing tasks or projects that adults have the option to do. There are many ways you can include real life situations for students some suggestions are:

  • Helping design the classroom (perimeter and area)
  • Planning for a class party (budgeting)
  • The shortest way to get to another classroom (distance and measurement)
  • The number of books in the school library (estimation)

Reward Systems

Often we forget about reward systems and how they can differ by subject. For reluctant math learners we need to think of ways to encourage them, as often they don't enjoy numeracy or have low self-esteem. Some reward systems you might decide to use are:

  • Re-invented star chart - every time someone gets a problem wrong but then decides to try a new method to solve it, they get a star.
  • Thinker of the day - the student who gave the best range of responses. This might be a photo of them on a board or simply just mentioning them at the end of the class.
  • 'I used to think but now I think' display - to help students share their strategies and growth with responses.

This will allow all learners to see that they can be seen as achieving. It will also keep your ‘high flyers’ on their toes, as often they can slack off by doing the bare minimum but still getting the 'right' answer.

If you are looking for ideas or print and go resources to help you with this topic, you may find some of these useful.

Interested in exciting math projects that are ready to print and go, having all the hard work done for you?

Then these real life math tasks are just what you are looking for!


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