Hands-on learning boosts student motivation

I can honestly say that I got them excited about math. Yay! And Motivation Math helped me to do that.

Kim Caille
Math Teacher
Notre Dame Academy

After years of frustration trying to plan lessons and teach the Georgia Standards of Excellence (GSE) with few resources that truly supported the mathematics GSE, Kim Caille finally found the answer she was looking for. Now in her third year implementing Total Motivation Math, Kim finds the resource to be extremely well aligned to the standards. More than that, it helps her address students at all levels of understanding because of its focus on critical thinking and inclusion of so many extra strategies aimed at interventions and extensions.

At the beginning of every school year, she looks at the students’ long faces in her classroom and tells them that they will change their minds about math. And they always do.

Watch Kim Caille talk about the success in her classroom, then read the full story below:

Teach Kids to Look at Math in a New Way

Kim Caille had been teaching third grade in Fulton County for three years, and it was still a daily struggle to prep lessons aligned to Georgia’s standards. The frustration built as she sifted through old, misaligned resources and patched holes in the content with whatever material she could dig up online. She spent an extensive amount of time researching strategies and modifying activities for her lesson plans. Reflecting back on the depth of her students’ needs, she recalls, “The existing curriculum was not working because some of these kids didn’t even have number sense. They didn’t have the understanding of the math concepts, and they couldn’t talk to you about math.”

Finally, Ms. Caille decided to stop patching together her own curriculum, search out a resource that supported the standards, and shift her energy toward teaching rather than researching. She remembers thinking, “There’s got to be something out there, right?” She followed her hunch that summer, researching alternative products, and discovered Total Motivation Math. The resource was love at first sight. Better yet, “It catapulted my teaching,” she recalls.

'It catapulted my teaching,' she recalls.

“I loved Total Motivation Math because I had such a hard time finding resources that were rigorous enough, and were tiered,” Ms. Caille explains. “What I really loved about the Teacher Edition was that there were multiple suggestions for every single standard tiered for the activities and the lessons . . . That was a big plus to me.”

In the summer of 2015, Ms. Caille left Fulton County to take a job teaching fifth grade at Notre Dame Academy. Her first move was to compare the new resources provided by the school with Total Motivation Math. There was no contest. She pitched the idea of using Total Motivation Math to her new principal and was pleased when her new cohort of teachers voted to use Total Motivation Math in grades 3–5 for the 2015–2016 school year.

Keys to Implementation

In her fifth-grade classroom, Ms. Caille uses Total Motivation to drive instruction as the central curricular component, supplementing with resources provided by the state of Georgia. The Total Motivation Student Edition provides a wealth of practice items and tiered activities aligned to standards, but Ms. Caille has found the Teacher Edition to be the truly invaluable component when it comes to lesson planning. “I found myself planning for a lesson on time because I had the resources that I needed,” she says.

For each standard, the Teacher Edition provides dozens of strategies and ideas for introducing concepts, checking for understanding, differentiating instruction, and providing interventions or extensions. Ms. Caille especially appreciates the literature connection and the variety of vocabulary activities provided. She adds, “Not only are my instructional strategies actually tiered in the Teacher Edition, but when they’re independently working with the Student Edition, there are activities in there that are also tiered as well. So all the way around you’ve got this differentiation.”

Helping students adjust to more rigorous standards and learn how to “search for answers themselves” was a challenge—but one that suited the higher-order thinking Ms. Caille knew was already built into Total Motivation Math. In fact, the level of critical thinking required initially surprised her students. They were used to rote memory exercises, especially in math, that don’t “require you to go further or think deeper or apply in the real world.” In contrast, she says, “Making that switch with Motivation Math has been huge because these kids have had to look at math in a different way. It’s getting them to actually understand the math concepts behind it.” She adds, “What these problems really require is for students to look at it, and look at it again, and check over it and analyze it, and really critically think.”

'It requires what we call in fifth grade, our math talk.'

Grateful for this support built into the resource, she points to the many strategies and activities that require constant engagement on the part of the teacher. She says that Total Motivation “requires the teacher to be more hands on with the kids. You can’t just stand up and do a couple of sample problems and then have them do a whole page of sample problems. It requires conversations. It requires what we call in fifth grade, our math talk.” The resource shows teachers how to confidently shift their classrooms from teacher-centered to student-centered, following the adage that the brain doing the most talking is doing the most learning.

The suggested formative assessments have become an integral part of instruction, too. She explains that the activities “don’t require a lot of resources, and they don’t require a lot of time. It might just be that they are answering a question on a sticky note. Maybe it’s even just a quick question in a small group. It does help me to remember to keep assessing them and checking them, too.”

Positive Results and Increased Performance

At the beginning of the 2015–2016 school year, her new class of fifth graders complained to her that “I’m bad at math,” or “it’s not my strong subject,” or “it’s boring and hard.” She talked to them about stopping the negative self-talk and promised that she’d change their minds about math. Two months into the new school year, students already had significantly different feelings about the subject.


Her students now look forward to math as their favorite part in the week—particularly the Motivation Station feature, which Ms. Caille says is crucial to tapping into real-world creativity and problem solving. These hands-on learning experiences propel students forward and increase their effort. “It makes them excited about the next topic or the next unit because they’re excited about what we’re doing now,” she adds.

Besides equipping teachers to differentiate instruction, model higher-level thinking, and quickly assess student progress, Total Motivation has helped to empower Notre Dame Academy’s students to take ownership in their own learning process. “That’s the scary part at first, especially for a teacher because you have to also teach these kids to persevere and to attend to the task. That can be a challenge on one end—you have to really encourage the kids not to give up. But that’s also been an amazing thing to watch.” She says, “I can honestly say that I got them excited about math. Yay! And Motivation Math helped me to do that.”