Mathematical Motivation Through the Holidays

As the holidays approach, and with them an extended break between semesters, motivation wanes, not only among students but also within the teaching ranks. Classroom teaching can be a challenge – trying to keep students on-target with their learning goals while acknowledging the distracting festivities all around.

As a classroom teacher, I sometimes found myself frustrated by the ways in which my students got caught up in the holiday cheer. After a few years, I realized that it wasn’t only the students who were pulled away from the learning at hand; I suddenly realized that I was contributing to the tension between learning and celebrating. I was eager to get out the door to get more shopping done, to get ready for yet another party, to be released from the pressures of work so I could engage in more holiday play. I was contributing to the frenzied atmosphere in my classroom because I was distracted by my own desire to be on vacation. I was tired, overwhelmed, and a bit burned out — and my students knew it.

At that moment, I realized I needed to do two things: have fun with teaching during the holiday season and attend to some self-care.

Having Fun with Teaching and Learning

First, I made a list of the standards to be covered during the weeks between Thanksgiving Break and Winter Break. I looked at the tasks and problems included in my district-adopted textbook. And then I contemplated ways I could redesign the tasks to include holiday flair while meeting the objective.

  1. Shopping Task: Given that shopping is a big activity this time of year, I like to set students up with a math activity that involves buying gifts for others. I give them a budget, a list of people, and a time limit for purchasing gifts for each person. This activity may be as open-ended as letting them shop online or as limited as giving them a specific scenario such as this one from NCTM. You might even take your students on a field trip to the mall. When I did this, I made arrangements ahead of time with 5 stores, all of whom agreed to ring up the purchases and give my students mock receipts (no money changed hands). The students worked in groups to buy gifts for a family of 5. They had to plan ahead as there was a minimum for each family member in order to qualify (they couldn’t just buy a deck of cards for the last person because they had cut it too close). The team that came closest to $100 without going over “won.” Afterwards, each team received $25 (earned from a math-related fund raiser we did before Thanksgiving) to shop for a child on the Angel Tree at the mall.
  2. Coordinate Geometry: My 5th-graders are usually working on coordinate geometry around December, so I like to replace some of the textbook tasks with graphing tasks that result in creating holiday pictures on the coordinate grid. The students love this so much that they ended up creating their own coordinate grid puzzles for one another.
  3. Game Play: Designating a set period of time for game play provides a fun way to review concepts already covered during the year. I like to set out some marshmallows and chocolate chips for the kids to munch on as they play games that have become favorites throughout the semester such as One, Two, Switcheroo or Go Fish.

There are so many ways to connect holiday fun to the math standards you’re currently teaching. Give it a try…and let us know how it goes!

Attending to Self-Care

I’m saving this one for next week. In the meantime, take some time for yourself!!!

We wish you the best as you navigate these weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Focus on making things fun for your students – and you’ll have more fun, too! And be sure to take care of yourself in the process.

We would love to hear from you. What are you going to do to make math fun for your students during the holidays?

Kimberly Rimbey, Ph.D., works with teachers and leaders to develop system-wide change in mathematics teaching and learning.

Leave a Reply