A productive struggle in math can help students feel engaged and hit the target of their math achievement.

How a productive struggle motivates students in math

If you're unfamiliar with the concept of a productive struggle, read on to learn how it can engage students and promote better achievement in math

While parts of the education system have incorporated tailored methods to keep students engaged, mathematics is often still taught in traditional, non-differentiated ways. For example, many math lessons focus on teaching the one correct path to reach the one right answer to a problem. Memorizing formulas and drilling in the “proper” approach through repetition too often take precedence over conceptual understanding and experiencing multiple strategies, both of which are important according to research.

In school systems where a one-size-fits-all approach continues to be the norm, it’s no wonder many students are turned off by math and begin to believe, “I’m just not a math person.” In addition, being the “only” in higher level math classes—the only girl in advanced algebra, the only black or brown boy in AP calculus—can also limit students’ ability to perform to their full potential. Stereotype threat can affect performance on tests and lead to a sinking feeling that they do not belong in that math class.

Related content: How we created a growth mindset in math

A growing body of research has revealed the diversity of student strengths and challenges and a wide variety of pathways there are to effective learning. Given the latest evidence, it is increasingly clear that a cookie-cutter approach to education does not regularly engage many students and leaves behind far too many disconnected learners.

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