Okay, friends, here it is–my second back to school confession: I LOVE teaching math. Love, love, love! If I had to departmentalize I would choose math in a heartbeat. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like reading or writing; math just has a special spot in my heart. Which is funny if you knew me as a kid, because when I was a student myself I hated math and totally thought it was the worst. But I think that part of the reason I hated math is because of the way math was taught in the 90s and the idea of math as a fixed skill; either you’re good at or you’re not. As a kid, I always felt like I wasn’t good at it and there was no way to become good at math if you weren’t innately good at it. So, it’s always felt like a personal mission to me to make sure as many of my students as possible love math so they don’t feel the way I did when I was a kid. In light of all of this confessing, I’m here to share with you some of my back to school (math) ideas.
*Have reasonable expectations.
As you start the school year, it’s important to buy kids in, and build your classroom community. You wouldn’t start the first day of first grade with plus 10/minus 10. You can’t expect kindergarteners to work silently for 20 minutes on the first day of school. Bite off small, reasonable chunks that will help you work towards larger goals. Like working independently for 2-3 minutes (or whatever is appropriate for your grade level. Can you tell I’m an early elementary girl?) at the right voice level.
*Roll it out slowly.
I know it does feel like it, but you have plenty of time! Don’t try to rush it all in the first day, week, or even month. Take one lesson to teach them how to work with a partner. Take another lesson to teach them how to get and return their materials. Take another lesson to get help. You get the idea, yes? Time is on your side at the beginning of the year! If you take your time now and roll it out slowly, you’ll have a great foundation for the entire year. It feels so slow and ploddy every year and sometimes I just want to yell “Oh my gosh, how many times do we REALLY have to practice using folders?!”, BUT in November when we’re zooming through like a well oiled machine it’s totally worth it. Just take your time–with classroom routines/procedures it’s definitely better to be the tortoise than the hare.
*Choose non-math math activities.
This might seem counter-intuitive, but what I mean by this is really buy them into math by showing them that math is more than just adding and subtracting. During the first 6 weeks of school, I make it a point to use math lessons to teach my students how to use all the math tools in our classroom. (To be clear, that’s not the only thing we do during the first 6 weeks, but it is a big priority.) Usually, the first tool we learn about is shapes; those big plastic shapes you get–the blue rectangle, orange triangle, green. I give them about 90 seconds to “play” with them. You know, build a tower, make a dog, whatever. Then I give them about 5 minutes to do a “math action” with them. Lots of kids will sort, because they learned that in pre-K and K. Some will count the total. Some will sort, then count. Some will do something different (like use them to measure, or use them to make bigger shapes, etc.). I ask them to record what they did–mostly so I can see if there’s anyone totally off base later–and then we come to the carper and talk about all the different ways we can use shapes, or whatever the tool of the day is. I also love this because it buys in kids who aren’t confident in their math abilities. If you’re nervous because you can’t count past 50, and then you find out that you get to use cool tools and no one is calling on you to count in front of your classmates you feel more comfortable because the stakes are lower. (And then you, you crafty teacher you, can gradually raise the stakes so slowly they don’t notice.)
*Build a community that values effort over accuracy.
This ties in to my last idea about the non-math math. You can get your guys who aren’t into math or don’t feel confident in their skills/abilities “bought in” by taking the pressure off with non-math activities. You capitalize on their buy in by valuing EFFORT over accuracy. This is important for 2 reasons. First, you definitely want to emphasize the effort so that kids don’t quit when it’s hard. You want to teach them to persevere, even when the task is a struggle. If you teach them that they can do it, they’ll believe it, and they’ll DO it. Secondly, not only does emphasizing the effort help kids who don’t feel confident (I know if I try my best and keep working even if it’s hard that I’ll be able to do it), but it also sends the message to kids who are at or above grade level that actually doing the task is what’s important, not necessarily getting the right answer or finishing quickly. That doesn’t mean you should challenge those kids; it just sends them the message that there is more value in the effort than the product.
“Man, these sounds like great ideas, Rachel, but how will I ever find the time to put them into action?” Well, I’m so glad you asked! Stay tuned for a unit that includes roll out community building lessons and math activities. In my mind, this will be done over the holiday weekend. My tiny overlords (read: 17 month old twins) might have something else to say about that. Want to know that minute it’s done? Follow me on Twitter or subscribe to my newsletter!
Have a great Thursday, everyone! xoxo, Rachel