TME(2022) Vol 3, No. 1, pp 41-61

Motivating Mathematics Students and Cultivating the Joy of Learning Mathematics

Joseph B. W. YEO

National Institute of Education
Nanyang Technological University

Published in The Mathematician Educator, 2022, Vol 3, No. 1, pp 41-61.


The underlying basis of the self-determination theory (SDT) is that people are inherently motivated to learn if their basic psychological needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness are met. The theory also provides a comprehensive taxonomy on the different types of extrinsic and intrinsic motivations. For example, identified and integrated extrinsic motivations are based on a sense of value while intrinsic motivation is based on interest. In this article, I will put the theory into practice, suggesting in more concrete terms how teachers could motivate their students to learn mathematics. First, I will describe some applications within mathematics and in the real world which could be used to motivate students extrinsically by helping them see the value of what they are studying. Moreover, real life examples might also help students relate mathematics to their own experiences. Then I will provide some examples of catchy mathematics songs and amusing videos which could be used to motivate students intrinsically by arousing their interest. I will also discuss how to build up students’ competence in mathematics by developing concepts using examples and not definitions, and by using guided discovery learning and guided proofs, which could also provide autonomy support for the students. I will examine how the practice of procedural skills could be structured more effectively and how mathematics puzzles and gamification could make such practice more enjoyable. Lastly, I will draw on a research study to inform what Singapore teachers are doing to motivate their students.

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