Laila Nur

Let’s Laugh About Math: Promoting Confidence Through Humor

You’re sitting in your classroom, you’re watching your students struggle, and your class time is passing you by. Keep procrastinating, over and over. Well, maybe I’ll help them with their confidence next year…maybe next semester. No, do it right now!

You spend all day trying to build your students’ academic identity anyhow. Why don’t you make a change that’s going to improve their confidence in mathematics?

Why are you making it complicated? It’s easy – let’s laugh about math!

Call to Action

Incorporate mathematical and/or educational humor into your class at least once a week for the next four weeks (or longer). Then:

  1. Describe how you implemented humor into your lesson/class time.
  2. How comfortable did you feel during implementation?
  3. Take note of changes in students’ behavior and attitude over time. How did students respond?
  4. Do students seem more confident or comfortable speaking in front of a group?

About the Speaker

  • 2nd-year teacher at Manual Arts Senior High School in Los Angeles
  • A 3rd year Math for America, Los Angeles fellow
  • In 2012, I graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a BA in Mathematics
  • In 2013, I graduated from the University of Southern California with an MA in Teaching
  • I love cats & dancing
  • My favorite food is cake

Updated 2015 Apr 21: Livetweeting

Check out the collection on Storify.

5 thoughts on “Laila Nur”

  1. Kia Ora Laila
    I was lucky enough to make it all the way from New Zealand to NCTM in Boston this year, and Shadow Con was definitely on my highlights list. Your discussion about using humor in the class resonated with me in many different ways, and I am planning on using your Call to Action to finally start a blog about my teaching and the work I am doing with my faculty. Briefly, one of the initiatives we are working on with our “middle” students (who often struggle for motivation, do little work, happy to just scrape by…) is to make our examples/tasks either quirky/humorous/bizarre/weird or real/meaningful/powerful. I’ve heard that students remember better when there is an emotional connection to the work (I haven’t looked for the actual research to support this yet) – this emotional connection can be through humor.
    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us.
    Nga mihi nui

    1. Wow! New Zealand is a long ways away. I’m glad that you were able to not only experience NCTM, but the launch of Shadow Con 2015. Your school-wide initiative has been one of my personal goals this school year and humor seems to aid me in that process. I’ve found a few articles on the topic, but this is the most recent —-> .

      I’ll be looking forward to reading your blog! I’m excited to see/hear the the humorous things happening in your class!


  2. First, great talk. I’m glad Dan Meyer’s recent tweets/post about the shadowcon assessment brought me here.

    My second favorite book about improv comedy is You Will Never be Funny. The message is that intentional humor (aka stand-up) is very difficult (very!) to the point that most people shouldn’t attempt it. In contrast, improv has the funny built in. In other words, if you put all your attention and effort into the spirit of an improv activity, it will turn out to be funny without trying to hard.

    If you want an opposite example, take a look at Charlie Sheen’s contribution on Drew Carey’s Improv-a-Ganza. Warning: content may not be appropriate for many, hence why I’m not providing a direct link.

    This summarizes my own experience using humor in the classroom. Planned attempts to be funny generally fall flat, while great amusement sometimes comes up from simply being earnestly enthusiastic about what we are doing, what the kids are saying, and the connections we are discovering.

    For example, two weeks ago I told several 1st grade students that we were doing something that no one else had ever done (as far as I could tell from internet research.) So, if anyone ever asked them what their job/occupation was, they would have to say “mathematical researcher.” For some reason, the kids thought this was hilarious and repeated it to the rest of the class.

    So, my suggestion is that teachers shouldn’t worry about making their lessons funny (I have to teach them X, Y, and Z, and make them laugh?!) but should be open to the natural humor that comes up from genuine interaction.

    FWIW, It is similar to how I think about showing the beauty of math to the kids. Math has the beauty built in and the best way I can help students see it is by honestly engaging in the content and giving them opportunities to do so as well.

    1. Joshua,

      I completely agree with you. The value of a humorous moment is lost when you constantly TRY to be funny. I don’t necessarliy try to be funny all the time, but I try to identify moments where my humor could be implemented. It is indeed the genuine interest in mathematics and my students as individuals and mathematicians that fuels the humor in the classroom.

      You bring up a good point and it makes me think that I might need to change my Call To Action. I don’t want teachers to become me or the “funny teacher”. What I want is for teachers to be conscious of the golden opportunities that arise when we incorporate our students’ personalities and experiences into the mathematics. Humor makes the mathematics so enjoyable and that’s what I want the students to feel in my classroom.

      Thank you for this!


  3. I thought I’d seen your ShadowCon video before, but I had not! Maybe I was mixing it up with an Ignite one?

    I love the part about how mistakes have become something to laugh over (in a positive way) and then expeditiously move beyond.

    I also really like how a lot of the humor you describe is from your students, because you’ve made a safe and fun space for it. I finally realized this year that that’s a strength worth cultivating, especially since I can do that despite not being verbally funny myself. (I wrote about this some at )

    Something else I’ve been thinking about is how Fawn Nguyen and my (now-retired) father have promoted humor at school through exaggerated rivalries with other teachers. (Wish I could find Fawn’s post, but I can’t.) You can be more outrageous with another adult because the power differential isn’t there, and the kids know it’s really for entertainment and enjoy nudging it along.

    Anyway, I’m going to try your “homework” in the fall. Thanks!

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