Beginning of Year 5

As Labor Day Weekend begins, summer draws to an end, and the beginning of the new school year looms. I have retrieved the keys to my classroom, taken down the newspaper and garbage bags that covered my room, and put up my posters. I set up my desks in their standard beginning of the year configuration – three groups of partnerships (with the third section having mostly triples, due to class sizes). I’ve begun to revise my back-to-school letter, supplies list, routines and procedures that I plan to teach in the first week, as well as my opening calendar of how/when I’ll be rolling out my routines and procedures.

I spent a week at the Metamorphosis Summer Institute this year, and it reinvigorated my about teaching middle school math. My classes last year burnt me out quite a bit, but I feel ready to tackle a new year. I have a student teacher for the first time ever, and I’m very excited to impart my wisdom as well as learn from her and with her.

My goal this year is to try to blog weekly about something I’m doing in my classroom or something that I’m thinking about doing or even something just simply math related.

Let me start this blog off by saying my two areas of focus for this year are turn-and-talk and growth mindset. I want all of my students to be talking about math daily. That was my biggest take-away from the Summer Institute I attended. If you just ask the students to begin by turning to their partner and saying “What do you think the problem is asking you to do?” that will help students begin to get clarification. Having them share out as a class then what they think it’s asking, and then asking if there are any clarifying questions they might have will allow the students to help each other piece together what the problem is asking. Finally, giving students time to work on their own before allowing them to talk more with their partner about their strategies will allow students of different speeds to begin thinking about how to tackle the different problems. Furthermore, another pause in the problem-solving to share their strategy suggestions can help any students who are stuck or who didn’t know how to get started. My goal here is to get the students doing more of the thinking work, and me doing much less of it! 

My second goal is to imbue my students with a growth mindset. I strongly believe that everyone can learn anything – if they just put in enough effort. I printed out an article about growth mindset and how mistakes help the brain grow, and I’m thinking about how best to run a class dedicated to growth mindset in the first week or so of school. I haven’t figured out all of the details about how I want to do that. I think I might also use it to introduce a talk move (“circle debate”) where students write an argument (claim and warrant) and then have to summarize the argument of the person who shared before them. I need to develop the idea of the question that I’m going to have them write an argument about (but I expect it would be related to the idea that mistakes make their brains grow strong and that anyone can learn anything). 

I also plan to share with my students a couple of quotes that praise hard work and effort over inborn talents and ability. I strongly believe that when students come to my class and see other students for whom math comes “easily,” it’s not that those other students were born with more talent, but rather that the experiences they have had made them math experts early on. I have tried to come up with various analogies for students to help them understand this, to varying degrees of effectiveness. One of my favorite quotes is “Even Genius Cannot Transcend Effort.”

Also, if I do wind up with a homeroom this year, I think I might share a motivational quote on a daily basis. Until next week.