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10 Ideas for Motivating ST Math Students

If you are like many educators in 2020, the new year can’t come soon enough. Despite the many challenges we’ve faced these past few months, we persevered and made things work the best we can. As I continue to collaborate with teachers and administrators across the country on implementing ST Math in their schools, one challenge I consistently encounter is how teachers can keep students motivated during these unprecedented times. 


Incentives have always been a powerful motivating tool when used in the right way. However, with what feels like an ever-changing school environment (in-person, hybrid, virtual), we need to think outside the box given today's limitations. 

If you’re hard-up for inspiration, don’t overthink it. Here's a list of 10 incentive ideas we put together that you can try out. Please keep in mind what is appropriate for students of different abilities, grade levels, and your school or district’s distance learning policies.  

1. Take a Class-wide Poll

Don’t hesitate to ask your students what they want directly. Do they want you to read them a story, watch a movie as a class, or, thinking really outside the box, go on a virtual field trip? Narrow it down to a couple of options and have them cast their votes. 

2. Design Custom Swag

Who doesn’t love winning free swag? If you have some wiggle room in your budget, there are several online vendors and sites you could use to design custom stickers, labels, magnets, or something as simple as a GIF like the one below:


3. Host a Virtual Lunch

Set up a special lunch or snack time as a reward for meeting individual or class-wide puzzle goals. You can invite special guests like your principal, another teacher, or a person of their choice via Zoom, WebEx, or Google Hangout. 

4. Create Homework Passes 

Homework passes are excellent for motivating students. You can decide to cut an assignment in half, forgive a late assignment, re-take a quiz, or drop the lowest quiz grade. 

5. Use Social Media 

Social media is very effective at reaching your students in their communities. Depending on the platform, you can post all types of fun content like a funny JibJab video, a Flipgrid video, or Tik Tok dance party. Check out the example on Twitter from Mrs. Moffett's class in Massachusetts below. 


6. Wear Something Crazy  

We could all use a good laugh right about now, so don’t be afraid to make some wacky choices with what you wear to class if your students crush their puzzle goals. Depending on your school’s dress code, don the ugliest sweater you can find, an old Halloween costume, or even dress up like JiJi!  


7. Start a Wall of Fame 

A little friendly competition among students can be a big driver of motivation. Whether it’s a physical space at your school or a virtual display, adding student’s names and their accomplishments to a wall of fame helps them visualize their hard work and see how they're progressing in the class.  Also, you can hold weekly or monthly awards ceremonies with ST Math certificates and student shout-outs. 

8. Assemble Goodie Bags 

Grab some inexpensive treats, a small trinket, school supplies, coupons, freebie items from local businesses and load them into their Friday pick-up folder at school. Of course, schools learning exclusively from home may require additional coordination for home deliveries. 

9. Come Up with a Virtual Theme Day 

Take a break from an ordinary school day by designating a specific theme for your celebration. They can dress up like Pokemon, the Avengers, or stay in their pajamas all day. You can use props around the house to enhance your costume and create a digital background for each class.  

10. Get Family Pets Involved 

Bring Your Pet to School Day never took off when everyone was learning in-person for obvious reasons. But with students at home, getting the family pets involved in the celebrations will offer a nice break for students and allow the class to get to know their peers better.  

Bonus: Use as a participation grade based on the number of puzzles of goal completion for the week or month. 

To cover the critical areas of each grade level, try these recommended weekly puzzle goals: 

Students can always aim higher, but consider these as “stretch goals.” These long-term goals are typically what it takes for students to address all of the standards within a grade level over one school year.

Do you have an incentive idea of your own? Feel free to share with us (on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook) any of the above incentives you try with your classes.

Have fun!

Sabrina Siciliano

About the Author

Sabrina Siciliano is a Customer Success Manager at MIND Research Institute. As a former 6th, 7th and 8th grade Mathematics teacher for 11 years, she supports successful implementations of ST Math and builds engagements to improve math education through remote interactions.


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