Where Rigor Meets Engagement

Can Goldfish Focus Longer than Your Math Students?

on Sep 14, 2015


A few months ago, a Microsoft study announced that our increasingly digitalized lifestyles have resulted in a shrinking of our attention spans. We are now, according to this research, less focused than your average goldfish…who are apparently notoriously short-focused.

Consisting of  2,000 participants -none of them fish- the study revealed that since 2000 the amount of time that humans can maintain a coherent thought has dropped from 12 to 8 seconds. Here is a link to a short summary: Goldfish

What were we talking about? Sorry- Someone just posted a hilarious video of a dancing walrus…Oh, that’s right, our shortening attention spans.

So, what’s a teacher to do? Students’ brains are always scanning for things that are relevant and interesting. And while humans are simply not wired to pay attention all day long at school, your Math in the Fast Lane resource is a tremendous source for providing interesting, hands-on, relevant, attention-getting lessons.

Tips for Supporting Attention with
Math in the Fast Lane:


1. Establish Clear Learning Targets with Standards Walls

Students (and adults) tend to focus more on items related to reaching a goal. Reaching a goal can be very motivating to students. Mapping learning targets out in walls helps learners “see” their goals. Standards walls show the progression of learning – these are not just isolated activities – we are going somewhere! Adding color to your walls draws even greater attention – the brain hones in on color contrasts.

2. Get Brains Engaged by Touching, Doing, and Talking

Sorts give students opportunities to use their hands. Rather than just sitting and listening, they are actively moving pieces around – seeing how things fit. This moving of pieces can activate multiple areas of the brain. Cubes have the capacity to be tremendously engaging. Rolling a cube provides novelty, which piques student interest. Then, students practice the problem and share their mathematical reasoning with their group. Sorts and cubes also double as real-time formative assessments.

3. Up the Thinking Level

If work is too easy, students tend to disengage. Similarly, if work lacks relevance or interest, students can tune out.
Some wonderful things to try on the site are: Sometimes-Always-Never’s, Facts & Fibs, Which One Doesn’t Belong, and Agree/Disagree’s. These can prove highly stimulating. In fact, a challenge can be keeping the math debates within the allotted time.

4. Maximize Opening Minutes

Opening minutes are when learners’ brains are weighing the chances of success on a task and determining the value of the work being asked of them. An effective success starter gets students engaged quickly in valuable work that sets up TODAY’s lesson. Motivation and engagement begin in the opening minutes of the lesson. Plus, students tend to remember MOST what we do first in class.

5. Stations

Having students move from station-to-station can enhance attention. Math in the Fast Lane makes station construction a breeze! A good starting place is to click on your Road Map located in the bottom right hand corner. Now, just pull the activities you like for the standard(s) being taught at the stations. For suggestions on stations, check out the last blog on station construction.

Are the attention spans of students getting even shorter? According to one study, it’s quite possible. The good news is that an arsenal of attention-getting, thought-provoking, hands-on resources are a touch away.