Satisfaction in the Math Classroom

"Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire" - W.B. Yeats

I have decided to pose the question “how might we increase student satisfaction in the math classroom?” as my action plan for this year. While the question focuses on engagement, I intentionally used the word satisfaction to move away from the issue of students being artificially engaged due to grades and assessment. Essentially, I would like to focus on the intrinsic motivation of the students. 

I have chosen this for my action plan as I believe that it will help solve some of the challenges in my classes. It is common for students to question when they will use the content learned in class once they are done high school. If students are able to recognize the importance of the content, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated to learn. In turn, this will improve classroom behaviour and result in more active learning. 

Through initial surveys of my students, I recognized that relevance, collaboration and challenge were three main contributors to engagement in the math classroom. My action plan is as follows: 

  1. Integrate real-life scenarios when possible. I have tried to find math in my day-to-day life that is connected to the content covered in my courses. While it is a slow process, I am starting to build a library of real-life questions. Some of these are original, while others come from different resources such as Dan Meyer’s 3 Act Math or Mathalicious
  2. Encourage collaboration more consistently. I came across some concepts from Peter Liljedahl “Building Thinking Classrooms” that I have been able to try out in my classes. The use of “non-permanent vertical surfaces” (AKA whiteboards) and “visually random groups” encourages students to work together to solve problems. I have found success pairing this with the real-life scenarios mentioned earlier. 
  3. Increase the use of challenges or games in class. I have found using challenges or games to be an effective way of engaging students. This has been easy to do in data management during the probability-based units. I have also used some of the pre-made games and challenges on Desmos with some success. 

In testing out these various approaches, I ran into some new challenges but also had some great lessons. Space restrictions in terms of whiteboard space was a small challenge, with a few options in terms of mobile whiteboards or reusable, temporary whiteboards/chart paper. The real challenge seemed to be coming up with problems that were related to the course content. While some students were able to find workarounds that avoided the intended math, this demonstrated critical thinking and resulted in some good discussion. 

My next steps will be to further develop my library of real-life math problems, look into developing a more student-led curriculum in my Grade 11 Applications and Functions course and a project-based approach in the Grade 12 Data Management course. I think this will further increase student satisfaction and result in more learning. I am looking forward to seeing how my students respond to these changes and furthering their satisfaction with math. 

7 thoughts on “Satisfaction in the Math Classroom

  1. Hi Matt - this is so comprehensive! It sounds like you have really taken a deep dive into your action plan. Maybe a 'real-world' math problem could be your students developing lessons for my Gr. 5 students involving data management! Very real world when you have to work with 10 year olds!

  2. Hey @mmurray,

    I believe meaningful context and purposeful work is the key to most of our adolescent academic engagement issues in school. As someone who is currently developing a Math and Science curriculum for my school (SiTE School), I can't thank you enough for sharing these wonderful resources.

    I have recently come across an Inquiry Maths approach which allows students to work through a series of problem sets without the need for instruction and formulas (discovery comes from their own self-organized collaboration and research):

    I also need to shout-out @mmoore for inviting me to last year's Math Assessment workshop at Hillfield. This shared resource has proved invaluable:

    Maths engagement is a worthy challenge and as @jmedved stated above, you're not alone.


  3. Hi Matt, this is so interesting and I love that you have posted a wide variety of resources. Your research is really similar to mine so I'll be checking some of them out.
    I wonder if you have also considered different PBL units for math to bring in more real world context? I have some resources I can bring on Friday if you would like to check them out? Also I'd be interested in hearing the discussion among students when their engaged, I'm sure it's pretty obvious when they're satisfied and interested in the content!

  4. Well done @mmurray! I love how invested you are in your students' learning and how you always have their best interests at heart. What you are doing with them this year is going to have a lasting affect as they continue to grow as mathematics learners.

    A few resources you may be interest in are below:

    1. "Would you rather?" poses comparison questions where that best choice is not always obvious (

    2. A spreadsheet of MDM4U resource links I stumbled upon. Make sure to click through all the tabs at the bottom too (

    See you tomorrow!



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