The cover of "Motivation Matters and Interest Counts: Fostering Engagement in Mathematics."

Math motivation

All students can be motivated, even in mathematics

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11:38 a.m., April 25, 2011--Although students may not be motivated to engage in the learning activities promoted by their teachers, they are always motivated to do something.  A new book called Motivation Matters and Interest Counts: Fostering Engagement in Mathematics, asserts that it is the teacher's role to channel students' engagement toward activities that would support their learning of mathematics.

The purpose of this book, co-authored by a University of Delaware professor, is to provide mathematics teachers in grades K-12 with research-based information about students' motivation and engagement in mathematics classrooms. Its style is conversational, involving the reader in examining their own reasons for engaging in mathematics and mathematics teaching. Its research-based strategies are useful, applicable, and effective for students of wide abilities and backgrounds, and accommodating a wide variety of teaching styles.

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“Each chapter begins with a narrative story set in a mathematics classroom,” explains co-author Amanda Jansen, associate professor in UD's School of Education. “The narratives are based on real classrooms that we have encountered as researchers. In the body of the chapters, we interpret the narrative stories through principles found in research on motivation in mathematics classrooms.” 

Teachers are encouraged to think about their students' motivation -- perhaps in ways that are different than their current perspective. Instead of looking at students and thinking that the reason that they are not learning is that they are not motivated, teachers are encouraged to think about what they can do to engage more learners.

"We believe the book will have particular appeal to teachers who are having difficulties motivating their students, and who wonder why their students are behaving the way they do and what can be done about it,” says co-author James A. Middleton of Arizona State University. “This dilemma is common to teachers at all levels of instruction, but particularly so to middle grades teachers, for research shows this is a time when students by and large begin to become turned off academically and especially in mathematics. It is therefore a critical time to implement changes in curriculum and instruction to countermand this trend."

The first half of the book asserts that motivation is learned and can be adaptive. It demonstrates that success matters for motivation, creating long-term attitudes and affecting both educational and social relationships.

The second half of the book provides instructional principles that teachers can use to motivate and engage their students in mathematics classrooms. It addresses the use of contexts in mathematics problems, helping students navigate challenging mathematical tasks, limiting external rewards and reinforcers, exploiting interests, and building relationships.

"This book is designed to present the full body of research on motivation in mathematics education in a useful, interesting, and provocative manner. It demonstrated how to design or utilize strategies based on solid empirical research to engage students more, and help them learn more as a result," says Middleton.

Motivation Matters and Interest Counts: Fostering Engagement in Mathematics is published by the NationalCouncil of Teachers of Mathematics.  When introduced at the annual meeting of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics on April 13, it sold out within 48 hours.  It is now available for purchase on the NCTM website.

Article by Alison Burris

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