By Jennifer Chang Wathall
Have you ever been in the situation where your students come to class a little too energetic to be able to focus on the task at hand? Or when your students arrive from a break or lunch and they are just not ready for the learning space? Perhaps your students, based on previous experiences are extremely anxious and fearful of solving mathematics problems?
In another life, as well as teaching maths in the classroom, I was a part time yoga teacher for 10 years. Being mindful during my practice and meditation meant that I was able to be fully present and focus on what I was doing at that specific time. Mindfulness is about attending to your awareness of what you are sensing and how you are feeling, with a non-judging and kind attitude, and without letting the external environment be sources of distraction. Mindfulness is a basic human quality that everyone is capable of engaging in. With practice, mindfulness can be a powerful strategy to positively contribute to one’s mental health and well-being.
The benefits of mindfulness in the maths classroom
Many schools around the world are introducing mindfulness programs as a way to empower learners by explicitly teaching self-management skills and reduce stress. Research from Harvard and Oxford suggests that mindfulness education can reduce stress and increase attention spans in the classroom. Mindfulness programs teach students strategies to calm the mind and body so learners can engage and be present in the classroom.
The benefits of infusing mindfulness into the classroom include:
- Teaching students how to reflect and identify their feelings and behaviour. This encourages a compassionate attitude and to be aware of distractions.
- Preparing students to fully engage in the learning space.
- Support the transition to different learning engagements or environments.
- Give students reflection and thinking time by helping them create an interval between experiencing a feeling and reacting.
- Encourage students to be fully present and focused.
- Increase attention spans.
- Reduce stress and anxiety.
How can we incorporate mindfulness into math lessons?
Unfortunately, too often, students experience fear and anxiety towards maths, sometimes caused by past negative experiences when learning maths. To overcome their anxiety one of the simplest strategies you can employ is the idea of a mindfulness minute. A mindfulness minute does not take up a lot of time, and can be used throughout a lesson whenever necessary. Basically, you can infuse a mindfulness minute whenever you feel your students need to focus and be aware of their own feelings and behaviours.
In a mindfulness minute, there are variety of exercises we can employ so here are ten strategies to help you structure a mindfulness minute.
- Go to the window and choose one object to focus on for one minute. This could be the sky, clouds, trees or a building. Looking at nature always evokes a sense of serenity, and research suggests that nature can reduce anger, fear, stress and increase positive feelings.
- Close your eyes for one minute and count your inhale and exhales for a count of four to six. This technique allows students to focus on their breath. Naturally their minds may wander, so remind students to be aware of this and to let those thoughts go.
- Close your eyes and listen to some calming music and appreciate the sounds you hear.
- Close your eyes and notice and appreciate the silence or the natural sounds of the classroom.
- Close your eyes and think about something that makes you happy.
- Close your eyes and repeat a mantra to yourself that follows your breath. For example, as I breath in I think about being calm, as I breath out I smile.
- Close your eyes and hum or buzz like a bee that follows a four-count breath (good for early years learners).
- Close your eyes and imagine you are floating on a fluffy white cloud gliding though the sky- I use to use this one very often and everyone loved this imagery.
- Stand and stretch. In yoga we start in mountain pose (Tadasana) and we raise our arms over our head as we inhale and lower our arms as we exhale.
- In a seated position, with your legs crossed, close your eyes and think about a piece of string lifting your spine. As you sit tall think about relaxing the muscles on your face.
Infusing mindfulness into your classroom only takes a minute but the benefits for our students are extremely impactful to their health and well-being. As a society, we are becoming more aware of the importance of the well-being of our children. It is our goal to make sure they grow up to be future positive, happy citizens of the world.
If you’d like to hear from Jennifer Chang Wathall about how to develop a growth mindset in your students, watch the webinar recording here.