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How to Motivate Students to Love Math

Janelle Cox


What is it about mathematics that makes children so unreceptive? For years, research has shown that students lose interest between the years of elementary school and high school, and many don’t regain interest until they are in college or beyond. According to a college entrance testing agency (ACT), only 45 percent of high school graduates were ready for college-level math. This data reflects the challenge teachers face when they are learning how to motivate students to love math.

Just as adults need to be motivated to give their best, so do children. Here are a few strategies that use extrinsic as well as intrinsic motivation to inspire young minds to love math.

Build on Skills Students Have Mastered

An effective technique is to structure learning based on what students have already mastered. When you build on skills students feel comfortable with, it will give them a sense of accompaniment. You’ll also be learning how to motivate students to want more.

Demonstrate the Usefulness for Math in the Real World

A critical element to switching students on to math is to show them how it is used in their lives. Many children do not understand that the tools they use every day (Twitter, Instagram, and texting) come from an engineer. When you help students make this connection, it can in turn motivate them, and they will be able to appreciate how mathematics can translate into a career.

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How to Motivate Students to Set Achievable Goals

Help students set a goal to work toward. Start small, and once they achieve their first goal, move to a higher one. Once students get a taste of achieving their aims on a regular basis, it will motivate them to strive for even more.

Present a Reasonable Challenge

Present your students with a challenge that is both within their reach and can peak their excitement. After all, it’s difficult to motivate a love for math if there’s no enthusiasm behind it. Children love a challenge and this can very well be the key factor to get your students hooked on the subject.

Incorporate Technology into Lessons

Children love technology and any time that you can incorporate it into your lessons, the better. There are numerous math apps on the market that provide students with challenging games or at the very least, a different vantage point to approach the problems. Use them generously.

Be Enthusiastic While Presenting Math

Another powerful trigger to cultivating a love for math is your own enthusiasm while teaching. Children tend to attach a value to each subject, and when they see their teacher (or parent) values mathematics, then they too will understand its importance.

Entice Students with a Magical Math Problem

Magic is something that mystifies people, and sometimes all it takes to motivate a student to love math is to give them one bewildering problem that can get them hooked. For example, the birthday problem is a famous math problem based on the premise that at least two students in a classroom will have the same birthday. Baffle your classroom and it just might be the catalyst you need.

Play Games

Make math interesting by using recreational mathematics to motivate students, such as puzzles, board games, and manipulatives. Chess can teach students to strategize and calculate, while other games can teach math-related skills to help keep their minds sharp.

Incorporate Music into Your Lessons

Many students don’t realize how closely related music is to math—every genre of the former uses calculation in some way and your classroom will greatly benefit from understanding this relationship.

In today’s classroom, math is taught as a procedural tool and nothing more. Effective teachers will take the strategies listed above to not only motivate students to latch onto the lessons, but also see mathematics in a new, more applicable light. Present this often-dreaded subject in a way that students will love and see its effects take shape!

Do you know how to motivate students to love math? Do you have any tricks or tips that you would like to share? Feel free to leave a comment in the section below. We would love to hear your thoughts.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for, as well as a contributing writer to and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators