Active Engagement in the Mathematics Classroom

by Ernie Melcher

Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand.

Active engagement has long been known to be a core principle of effective instruction. The more time students are actively engaged in learning, the more they will learn. This is particularly true for the mathematics classroom. Learning should not be seen as a spectator sport. Students need to do more than just listen; they need to read, write, discuss and be engaged in solving problems. Even better is when they can relate their learning to past experiences and apply it to their daily lives.

Teachers in the early grades and those working with struggling students often use manipulatives to engage students in mathematical reasoning. Teachers in the upper grades can challenge students by providing them with high-level tasks that relate to real world situations. Teachers at all grade levels can promote active engagement by having students work in pairs or in small groups. Encouraging students to work together and share their thinking will assist students in gaining a deeper conceptual understanding of complex mathematical ideas.

Technology has opened up a whole new dimension for actively engaging students. There are numerous software applications and websites that provide math games for students of all ages. Math Games / PBS Kids is just one sight. Available at, this site offers numerous games for young children. Math Goodies, available at, not only has games, but provides tutorials and homework help for older students.

The Institute of Education Sciences released a report in 2011 titled Measuring Student Engagement in Upper Elementary Through High School: A Description Of 21 Instruments. The report is available at

The report reviews the characteristics of 21 instruments that measure student engagement in upper elementary through high school. It summarizes what each instrument measures, describes its purposes and uses, and provides technical information on its psychometric properties.

These are just a few suggestions for actively engaging students in the math classroom. Please share with us some of your thoughts and ideas about how to engage students actively during math instruction.

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