Where Rigor Meets Engagement

Math Success Begins in Crucial Opening Minutes

on Jul 28, 2021

Class begins.

Students riffle through backpacks searching for homework they swear was there last night. Two plead dehydration and possible human rights violations if they can’t get water…or an IV started right now. An administrator wants to have just one word with you, and a bus change is being announced over the PA. Two students beg for pencils.

“Your warm-up is on the board,” we announce. “Next, we will go over last night’s homework.” But some students knocked out the homework on the bus – they got it. Others can’t find it or didn’t do it. The warm-up poses problems for some, while others fly through it and are sneaking peeks at the novel they just started.

Perhaps it’s time to rethink the opening minutes of math class. Warm-ups/bellringers are largely a classroom management tool. Often review, they get students into their seats and occupied so that administrative tasks can be handled. But here’s the problem: Opening minutes are also the time when students’ brains are the freshest. And what’s taught is the beginning of class is typically what they will remember the most.

In addition, student motivation begins in the opening minutes. Their brains are determining just how likely they are to be successful on this task…and if the task has value. That’s important, because if students perceive that they have a pretty good chance of being successful in math today, they are apt to work harder and persevere more.

So, creating student success in the opening minutes may pay dividends throughout class. If a student has a rough start…can’t find their homework or recall how to do the review problem…now we have a tough climb to make. For students who are excelling in math, they likely didn’t need the review or an explanation of every homework problem. For all students, if we dedicate too much time on warm-ups, we are now in the unenviable position of trying to teach a new concept in the middle of class, when cognitive fatigue has set in.

Math in the Fast Lane Success Starters are for TODAY”S lesson. They get learners thinking about work today. These can also be great closers for lessons – quick formative assessments for today’s learning target. Students can pair up and work on white boards or splash sticky note answers right on the screen.

Success Starters have the power to get every student thinking, “Hey, I think I can do this!” right out of the gate. They can be also be used to bridge learning from yesterday – to tap into prior knowledge to make learning faster and more effective.

Some potential solutions:  try moving review problems to the work period, either as a station or an additional placemat problem.   Homework feedback suggestion:  place a number line with the number of homework problems, for example, 1-9.  Have students place a dot for the 2 problems that gave them the most difficulty.  In other words, have students create a bar graph as class is beginning.  Just review those two problems.  The goal is to keep the opening minutes as open as possible for today’s concept.