- Building math lessons that tap into students' personal interests is a solid way to better engage classes in the material they’re learning — and potentially boost results.
- One way to begin is to ask students, parents and caregivers about topics and activities that draw learners’ attention — which could include sports teams or pop stars — and then turn to artificial intelligence for help, said Kevin Dykema, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, who has heard colleagues using the technology in this way.
- “If you’re looking at fractions and have students interested in basketball, ask ChatGPT to give you a situation involving fractions and basketball,” said Dykema. “It usually gives an interesting starting point of what teachers may use.”
Dykema noted that connecting math lessons to topics relevant to students’ lives helps engage them in the material and demonstrates how math is used everyday. Tracking scores in a basketball game, for example, can connect with math topics ranging from percentages to trajectories or geometry to algebra.
Memorizing a formula can be dry. Knowing how to apply that formula to calculate the vertical acceleration of a winning free throw shot can be more enjoyable.
“When teachers build lessons around students’ interests, that helps them see that mathematics is developed and still being developed, to solve real-world applications,” said Dykema. “We need to move math past ‘Here’s the procedure to memorize.’ That’s not the best way to engage.”
That’s one reason Dykema recommends turning to AI for suggestions on how to build math lessons around topics, such as popular culture. He added that while plugging a celebrity's name into a math problem may not be as much fun as tapping into the lyrics of the latest hot song, it's always a good idea for educators to check with their schools to make sure the material they're including “is school appropriate,” Dykema said.
Ultimately, though, educators should constantly search for new ways to hook students into math lessons, so they not only learn the material but understand how mathematics will be part of their future.
“It’s vital that we keep students at the forefront of our minds,” said Dykema. “Because we need to be engaging students, having students sit passively isn’t going to help them develop a good understanding of math.”