Back to School Teacher Tips

Back to School Teacher Tips

August 6, 2022
It is that time of year again - back to school - but this year is different. For many educators, we took a well deserved break from the hardest school year of our career. When schools were closed and we worked from home, many of the dreaded components of the school system were paused…testing, reporting, training. Last year it all came back, on top of learning loss, and it was hard
Now, the 2022-23 school year is upon us! It is time to turn a new page and find our rhythm again. Here are some math educator tips for this upcoming school year!

#1 - Growth Mindset

Brain Flexing
As much as I try to promote a growth mindset among students AND adults, there are still a number of people that believe they are NOT good at math and will quickly tell you so. I talked about Growth Mindset in my first blog series on the Standards for Mathematical Practice #1↗. I’m going to talk about it again because it is that important - especially as we start the school year! No matter where you work - private school, public school, after-school program, tutoring program - it is so important to support and prompt a growth mindset in mathematics among students and adults. 
“The term ‘growth mindset’ comes from the groundbreaking work of Carol Dweck. She identified everyone holds ideas about their own potential. Some people believe that their intelligence is more or less fixed and in math – that you can do math or you can’t. About 40% of students have these damaging “fixed mindset” ideas. Another 40% have a “growth mindset” – they believe that they can learn anything and that their intelligence can grow. The other 20% waver between the two mindsets.
Students with a fixed mindset are those who are more likely to give up easily, whereas students with a growth mindset are those who keep going even when work is hard, and who are persistent.”
According to Dweck’s research, a growth mindset is correlated with mathematics achievement. The students that BELIEVE they can persevere and accomplish, DO persevere and accomplish. If a student says they are bad at math, tell them otherwise and plant the seeds for a growth mindset! 
For the first week or two back with students, consider growth mindset activities from Jo Boaler! Boaler has taken the idea of Growth Mindset and worked it into a curriculum called the Week of Inspiration Math! On the Youcubed↗ website, Boaler has over 50 videos, resources, and tasks designed to build up student mindset and classroom community in all grades levels. The idea is that you pick five resources to build a Week of Inspirational Math to share with your students. Let’s build up that confidence early on to set the environment for the school year! 
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#2 - Find a Work Buddy

Macaw Friends
Working with students can be emotionally draining and stressful. This year, make sure to have a teacher buddy for support and planning help! It helps to have a person that is in a similar situation as yourself, such as the same grade level or program. Having a person to plan with makes the task go quicker and the outcome stronger. 
Let’s be honest, it is also great to have a person to vent with…educating offers unique challenges that other people in your life may not understand. Having a person to lift you up with understanding words is priceless! Educators need to have each other's backs and be there for each other. After a school year where many people met their limits, let’s build back this educational community. Let’s have a growth mindset too!
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#3 - Good Teaching is Good Teaching

No matter the population of students that you are working with…Special Education, English Language Learners, or Accelerated students, good teaching strategies support everyone. This year, try ONE new strategy to support all your learners. Remember, it’s quality over quantity.
  • Word Walls - I remember when word walls were super popular and in every room! It seems like their popularity has waned through the year. Let’s bring them back! Word walls support language development. Displaying high frequency words reinforces their importance while simultaneously offering support to students who need it. In math, many words have a root that contributes to their meaning. Underline and emphasize the root so students can see patterns emerge in the vocabulary. Having the key vocabulary accessible will encourage students to use those words in the classroom. See the link below for tips on building better word walls! Another way to support language development is to have students write and process the high frequency words into a math journal, aka, a foldable of vocabulary. This extra step gives students access to the word meanings and reinforces their importance. A MANGO math idea is to create a Math Journal containing operation synonyms such as plus, sum, together for addition. See the example here: MANGO Math Journal↗.
  • Writing and Creating - Studies↗ have shown that writing is valuable in the math classroom. Being able to write and express ideas in mathematics is just as important as computing mathematics! A student's ability to explain concepts in writing is related to their ability to comprehend and apply mathematical concepts. Writing helps students process their learning and works especially well as a closure activity. It can help students organize their thoughts before sharing with the class. Student’s writing is also good for the teacher! 
Written explanations of a student’s problem solving process allow the teacher to understand and assess the student’s thinking and comprehension.
  • Annotation - Math is a very visual experience. With numbers and symbols written across a page or white board, it can be very overwhelming. This year when you're working with students, be EXTRA with the annotations. Annotation is a strategy for recording the thinking of students on a math problem. This helps with clarity and access for students. As the educator, you can record a student's thinking with annotations on a math problem, or spice things up and have another student record a peer’s thinking! This helps students communicate and collaborate with peers. The strategic use of color aids the establishment of mathematical connections and structure. This visual aid benefits all students, and especially those that thrive on spatial and visual learning such as students with memory affected disabilities. 
"WODB" feat. triangles
  • On MANGO Math’s Instagram↗, you can find “Which One Doesn’t Belong” (WODB) activities during July 2022. WODB is when four images are shown, and students have to reason which one doesn’t belong. The beauty of these activities is that there is always a right answer! The four images are strategically selected so there is always at least one thing different from the other images. To add another layer to this popular activity, have students annotate their thinking on the board or paper. Ask them to draw and show which image does not belong and why. Better yet, have Student A annotate Student B’s thinking!
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