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Creating a Math Mindset from Day One

In the last post, I define what success is and looks like in my classroom. This ultimately, lead me to several questions:

  1. What are my students’ current beliefs and attitudes about math?

  2. How can I document those beliefs?

  3. How can I show students my beliefs without blabbering and nagging them constantly?

Actions speak louder than words. Nothing infuriates me more when someone does not walk their talk. As I reflect on how I want my students to see mathematics, I realized that not only do I have to model it, but I also must give them opportunities to live those Mathematical Practices. Over the last few years, I have completely revamped my first day of class. I do not read the syllabus. I do not stand in the front of the room lecturing about my rules, policies, and procedures. I do not teach content on the pacing guide. So what do I do? I am so glad you asked.

1. What do you know about Mrs. Newman?

Just like how someone’s bedroom can tell you a lot about who that person is, I ask my students to make observations in my classroom to figure out who I am. They briefly become detectives looking for clues. Once they gather their clues, they share their intel with the table group and I ask them 5 true or false questions about myself.

I love starting class this way. Right away they know that I trust and encourage students to make observations and conjectures. Mathematics is all about patterns, and in order to see a pattern, you first have to look. So many of my students math careers have been about listening to their teacher tell them the pattern. People are naturally curious, so I am building on their instincts and have them look for patterns about me.

2. Student Profile & Math Journey

Once students know a little about me, its my turn to know more about them. I use my student profile to have them share a little about their home life and their learning preferences. Then, its my favorite new addition - My Math Journey. I project a graph of my math attitudes from kindergarten all the way to my senior year in high school all the while explaining why I loved math that particular year, or why I struggled with math. Once I share my personal math journey, students complete their own. I cannot wait to have students complete this activity!

This activity will give me lots of insights into their attitudes about math. My pattern finder goggles will be on as I analyze my students’ graph stories.

3. … And I am a Mather

Adapted from Jo Boaler, I used this activity for the first time last year and absolutely loved it! Students get a “quilt square” (a 5x5 inch piece of cardstock) that they decorate with the phrase “I am” and proceed to write their name and all of the groups and labels they identify with (like reader, writer, friend ect.). At the bottom of their quilt square, they write “and I am a Mather,” because if you are a reader and a writer, then you are also a mather.

I love getting to know students in this activity. I find out my students’ hobbies and passions, maybe a little bit about their family, and what they love spending time doing. I also get a sweet window display for my room!

4. FAQ for Math Class

Up until this point in the lesson, there has been no talk of the syllabus or any policies and procedures I use in my class. This is my least favorite part of the first day of school, but I recognize it is vital for success in October and March when students are disengaged. To make it less awful, I turn it into an FAQ and scavenger hunt. Students first come up with questions they want to know the answers to about how the class operates. Will there be homework? What is the late work policy? What do I do if I am absent? Then I set them loose on a scavenger hunt where I print out slides of all of the policies and procedures and tack them around the room. Their job is to find all of the answers to their questions and take notes on anything else. I think this year, on day two I will do a follow up to this activity in some way.

I love doing this for two reasons: 1) I don’t have to talk very much and 2) students are driving what they want to know about how the class operates - they are the driving force in this activity. So much of their first day is “sit and get” about all of the boring and necessary information about their classes. I am still giving them the same information, but they are out of their seats, working with their table group, and learning new information. I am sending the message that learning is active in this class.

5. What is Success?

This is another new activity I am trying out this year after being inspired by Math Therapy podcast. The word success is so subjective. It means something complete different for each individual. For some it might mean making tons of money, for someone else it might mean having a healthy relationship. What I ask my students to do in this activity is to define success for math class. Does it mean getting an A? Just passing the class? Understanding the material? Then I ask students to define what does success look like? Finally, I ask them what are signs of success? Once they jot down their answers for these three questions and share them with their group, I share my answers to these questions.

The ultimate goal for this activity is to have common language about success and for me to share with students what I am looking for from them. My future conversations with my students can then be framed on their definition of success. At the conclusion of this activity I have students fill in the blank on a stickie “I need ___ from my teacher to be successful.” I later turn these responses into two posters, that everyone will sign, “Success in this class is” and “As your teacher, I promise to”.

6. Vibe Check and Math Inventory

The final activity students complete for the day is the Vibe Check and Math Inventory. Students work individually to complete an interactive slides where they use drag and drop and writing prompts to tell me how they are doing, what were their best and worst experiences in math class, and they write a letter to me about who they are.

While the Math Journey activity helps me get to know their attitudes about math. This activity truly lets me know about their beliefs. Do they think math is a set of rules and procedures? Do they think math is creative? Are their math people? This activity covers all of those bases.

Final Thoughts

These activities show students my beliefs about them and how math can be taught - powered by observation with the goal to find patterns, learning is active, sharing and collaborating are powerful tools, and their stories matter. The best part is I never say any of these things, I show them. My job is to continue to show them these things. Actions speak louder than words.

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