Larry Olsen, a math coach in Lake Havasu Unified School District, addresses strategies for keeping students attention.Jul 06, 2023
Larry Olsen has worked in Lake Havasu Unified School District for more than 30 years and has experience as a math teacher, math coach, mentor, athletic coach, and assistant principal.
The world’s largest alligator. Swipe.
Did you see what the pop diva was wearing? Swipe.
Are Brad and Jen getting back together? Swipe.
Watch any teenager on their phone today and you know this is their current reality. Today’s teenagers can give you five-to-seven seconds of concentration before moving onto the next topic. Now we know, even in the most engaging classroom, five-to-seven seconds is impossible for us to achieve, but it is a wake-up call to not lecture for 50 minutes. Bring excitement, provoke curiosity, and break the age-old typical script in your math class.
Try chunking your lesson, infusing age-appropriate pop culture, inserting multiple checks for understanding, and using active student engagement strategies to help enhance your optimal learning environment.
Chunk your lesson
Most math lessons have two or three different skills. Break your lesson up into smaller bite-size pieces. Both you and your students need variety. If you are bored delivering your lesson, imagine how your students must feel.
Here’s a cycle to follow, for skill 1, for example: model the skill, practice the skill, interact with that skill, formative assess that skill. Make an instructional decision. Reteach or proceed? Now move onto skill 2. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Insert popular cartoon characters into your examples
Students enjoy hearing Scooby-Doo, SpongeBob, and Perry the Platypus interacting with the math concepts. Take the Fundamental Counting Principle, for example. How many different ways can Shaggy and Scooby make a sandwich if there are three choices of meat, five choices of bread, and four choices of cheese? The answer is 60 ways, for those of you keeping score at home.
Check for understanding
Hold your students accountable for the information you are delivering. Walking around the classroom not only provides proximity to keep students on task, but it also allows you to see who understands and who needs help. Is it just a quick fix or do you need to pull together a small group after the lecture? Use whiteboards, response cards, hand signals, and exit tickets to gather your data.
Get your students up and moving
Insert a round robin or a quiz-quiz-trade student engagement strategy. Installing vertical whiteboards around the perimeter of your classroom are also amazing ways to get your students out of their desks to interact with mathematics. The blood flow to the brain will stimulate thought and help students retain the information. Most students crave social interaction. So, give them that social interaction within structures where they can cooperatively talk with their peers about math.
Six hours of school can seem like an eternity, but you can make your classroom the most productive classroom in the building where students want to learn and won’t give you the swipe.