“We laughed all the time!” and “I learned so much!” all in the same breath? Maybe we should be laughing more in math class! Those two former math students of mine really made me stop and think this week.
Maybe while I thought I was making the best of a really ineffective math program, adding in my own ideas along with laughter, the laughter itself was having a positive physical effect on the brains of my students. Their test scores at year’s end showed significant growth. I never connected it to the laughter. I thought it was my amazing manipulation of curriculum standards and my great ability to explain the concepts. Nope. They apparently learned more because we were laughing so much the whole year! Stress levels were down, and attention, motivation, and learning were up!
If you’d like to try your own experiment with the use of laughter in math class, here are some tips that produced smiles, giggles, and throw-your-head-back laughter for us:
Laugh at the absurdity of word problems together.
Really, how many cookies can Grandma bake? The most ridiculous situation for word problems, according to my students, was the one with Grandma baking cookies. It was used so many times in the problems from our math program. Oh, and that situation where there are five kids too many for one bus? Would your district really send an additional bus and pay a driver for five extra kids? Come on! Three to a seat, kids!Laughing together will feel so good! You may find yourself laughing the hardest because you are probably the one who once tried to get that extra bus!
Write your own story problems with real life situations from your class.
You can try this idea in a very simple way in your classroom. Just rewrite a problem from your math book. Change one thing – the situation (make it happen at your school science fair or in gym class), the data (change cookies to Dairy Queen Blizzards or whatever your kids love), or the names (sub in names of some of your students). Instant fun! Smiles, and maybe laughter, will follow as your little mathematicians dig into the problem solving!
The Magic Mike (as in microphone!)
The Koosh Ball
The Magic Fairy Wand
Poof! You had the power all along, my dear! Your brain is now infused with math magic! No problem is too difficult for you while covered with math magic fairy dust. (Yes, I have been known to toss a little glitter, too! They still grow up just fine!)
Vary the responses in interactive notebooks.
Allow opportunities for every intelligence and learning style to shine! We took lesson notes and added fold-ins and glue-ins on the right-hand page, and then our response to the lessons (left side thinking) was added on the left page. Why can’t left side thinking be a cartoon, a joke, a poem, or a rap? Why not a beautifully drawn picture or a diagram? Could it be a song? Let kids respond in their own unique ways to show what they know!
Treat testing situations lightly.
Close your door and joke about the testing situation itself. Close. Your. Door. Tread lightly with this one, but letting kids know that you are not so super serious about the whole testing thing really can help to lower their level of concern, reduce stress, and quite possibly produce higher test scores in the end! Read The Big Test by Julie Danneberg before a testing period. Refer to the test after that as “THE TEST,” and kids will smile. It will be your own little private joke. You won’t lower your rating or lose your job just because you called the test “THE TEST.” Just remember to close your door!
Interact, discuss, and share.
All of the above tips lend themselves to interaction. Let kids work with partners and in groups as often as possible. Even if they have little to add to the discussion, they might hear something that will resonate and make a difference for them in future problem-solving situations. It’s so good to hear the thinking of others. Expect to hear some laughter during group times. It just means that their brains are getting a great workout! One benefit of group work that I’ve noticed is that students will read the problem more closely to prepare for discussion. So many times wrong answers can be the result of simply not reading the problem carefully. A sweet student who finished our state online test in math in 11 minutes (yep, exactly the time it takes to click on an answer and switch screens) prompted me to develop a system for training kids to look more closely at math word problems. My Math Close Reads work so well as a guide for groups solving word problems.
I hope this post will help you to go from sighs to laughter when it’s time for math class! I would love to hear from you about how you find humor in math class!
Retta London is an award-winning Michigan teacher with 36 years of experience in developing leadership in her students. She runs Rainbow City Learning, is the mastermind behind the Bullyproof Rainbow after-school program, and has partnered with Lessia Bonn in a new shop called Awesome Sauce (so they can get their art on!). When she’s not developing new teaching resources or drawing kids, Retta loves to read, knit, laugh in Zumba class, and calm down after in yoga. You can connect with Retta by email, on her blog, on Facebook, Pinterest, and soon on Instagram.