I have the opportunity to work with many teachers and student teachers regarding the teaching of mathematics, and there is one phrase that I hear repeated like a refrain: “I want this math lesson to be fun!”

I must say that, too, want students to enjoy mathematics, and even further, I want them to be willing to persevere when the content proves to be a challenge. At that point math seems more like “work” and less like “fun” to most students.

That is why I never begin a lesson telling students that it will be “fun”. I think when we set them up with that idea that in their heads they interpret “fun” as piñatas and parties or something much different than what we will be presenting.

Instead, I purposely begin a lesson in such a way as to engage students’ interest, to pique their curiosity, to get them wondering. I try to engage the students fully and deeply in the lesson, and I am always surprised at their responses. At the end of the lesson I almost always hear one or more of the students in the class call out, “That was fun!” What I like, however, is that the word “fun” is being used in their own context of meaning, not one I am trying to impose on them.

If we only try to put fun things before students, how will they learn to persevere in tasks that are not quickly solved? It is critical that students experience problem solving where they have to figure out the answer based on what they know.

Engaging math lessons are far more likely to develop positive attitudes about mathematics than are a steady diet of “fun” lessons.

Mathematically yours,

Carollee

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Been saying this for years. So glad to hear another voice in the wilderness! Fun is a worthy byproduct of a good math lesson, but must never be the goal!