Monday, August 3, 2015

Math Tip Monday: Back to School Math Ideas

Welcome to

My friend Kayla at K's Classroom Kreations and I are hosting this blog hop to collect and share wonderful ideas about teaching math. On the first Monday of every month, we link up with fellow teacher bloggers to give you some great ideas that you can use in your classroom. Each month will center around a different math topic. First up: Back to School Math Ideas!

My tip has to do with encouraging a classroom culture where all students are engaged, responsible, confident, and resilient in their math learning. And this tip is very easy to include in your everyday mathematics instruction.

As a Reading Specialist, I've long referred to my students as "Readers" during reading instruction. "Readers," I would say as I sent them off to read, "make sure that you are using your sticky notes to jot down your thinking." Whenever I gave an instruction about reading, I would habitually call them readers. I wanted to send the message that all of my students were capable of using the strategies I was teaching.

A few years ago, I was attending professional development about implementing the Common Core State Standards. The presenter told us she referred to her students as Mathematicians when teaching math.  I had a serious AHA! moment. Why had this never occurred to me? After all, I want my students to feel just as capable when they are doing math as they do when they read.

My professional reading since then has reinforced the idea that students need to think of themselves as mathematicians.  In both John A. Van de Walle's Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics and Dr. Nicki Newton's Guided Math in Action, helping students to view themselves as capable mathematicians is mentioned as key to successful mathematics instruction.

Mathematicians From the Start!

I start helping my students see themselves as mathematicians the very first week of school. Last year in my second grade class, I introduced the term, mathematician, and asked students to talk with a buddy about what they thought a mathematician was.  After a lot of exclamations like, "a WHAT?" and "I don't know!" most students did figure out that it had something to do with math. After I let them know it was a person, we were able to create an anchor chart similar to this one.

This year, I'm going to use this biography of Paul Erdos to introduce a real life mathematician to my students. I'll still do the anchor chart, but this will give students a starting point for the discussion.

After making the anchor chart, I referred to it several times.  We added some things to it as I introduced parts of math workshop or as classroom situations dictated: someone who works hard; someone who makes mistakes; someone who helps people with math; someone who uses math tools; someone who keeps trying; etc.

My central goal was to create a classroom culture made up of problem-solvers, risk-takers, and self-directed learners.  So everything we did was tied to what a mathematician does.

I introduced my math manipulatives (tools) by allowing children time for exploration and then asking, "How would a mathematician use this tool?"

I introduced my math talks by letting students know that good mathematicians talk about math. Together, we created an anchor chart that helped set the guidelines for our math talks.

I let students know that mathematicians make mistakes and that is how we learn.  I wanted my students to take risks, to never feel embarrassed about getting the wrong answer, and to persist in the face of difficulty.  This was one of the guiding ideas of our math workshop.  It paid off when one of my most reticent students started to share her strategies during our math talks.  I did a mental happy dance the first day she stood at the board to tell the class how she solved the problem. Whoo-hoo!!

This year, I have the same goal, so I've made some posters that I'll be using in my classroom to remind students on a daily basis of what good mathematicians do. I'm emphasizing some of the characteristics I really want my students to demonstrate whenever we do math. The posters are now available in my TPT store.

I'll also be using a new poem that I've written.  After we've worked with the poem, I  plan on posting it in the classroom for us to revisit all year long.

If you'd like a copy of this poem, you can grab it here.

So, that's it. My first Math Tip Monday post.  I hope you can use some of these ideas to help your students think of themselves as mathematicians this year. What do you do to help your students feel confident and capable?  Please let me know in the comments below.

Don't forget to check out some of the other great math tips from the participating bloggers. And check in next month for our next Math Tip Monday!


  1. What a positive way to instill a joy for math. I love the resources you posted. Thank you for such a great post!

  2. I also start the year talking about what it means to be a mathematician. I love the "We Are Mathematicians" poem! I call my students mathematicians all year long during math workshop time. Have a great year!

  3. Love your ideas about getting kiddos excited about being "mathematicians." Such a great idea!

  4. I love this idea! What a great way to get kids excited about math! Your poem is simple enough that my kindergartners would be able to understand it.. Thanks for sharing!!

    Megan Shea

  5. What a cute idea! I can't wait to try it out this year. Thanks!