In my experience of this world, most people do not like math. The general consensus among kids *and* adults is that they hate math and they can’t do it. I believe that this is learned. Whether it’s an elementary teacher who hated math, a high school math teacher who got pulled over from their “real” subject to fill a vacancy, or a family mantra that “we aren’t math people,” negative math experiences leave their mark.

**We need great teachers to teach math! Kids need healing experiences of success in math – of fun – of joy! **

**Our enthusiasm can be infectious.****Our attention can be healing.****Our inspiration can be life changing.**

Don’t believe it’s possible? Check out the wonderful work that Jo Boaler is doing over at YouCubed:

Solving The Math Problem (Updated 11.30.17) from YouCubed on Vimeo.

Here are some ideas for how your class can be a place of math healing *this year!*

- Make your classroom a happy place to be. Share your personality!
- Give every student a chance to be
*right*as often as you can. Success = Hope in math! - Give your students tools that they can take with them to future, possibly less positive, math classes: Practice the mindset that Math is Figureoutable – the Common Core Standards of Mathematical Practice can be a powerful confidence booster.
- Consider switching to Standards-Based Grading. I found that it shifts the focus from instant-perfection to actual learning. It takes a lot of the pressure off, as well as the shame, which makes math so much more accessible for everyone.
- Connect students with resources for when they’re stuck on homework. Remind them that mistakes are our friends and that practice (homework) is the best place to make them. (Or consider banishing homework altogether!)

We may not be able to convert every student to love math, but we can help them believe they can do it!

Try this Scavenger Hunt for a low-risk review of rounding, integers, & fractions.

Here’s my problem with homework: the students who most need to do it, don’t. It’s the students who already understand and have no need for extra practice that do it. Homework simply widens the gap.

Also, home is the worst place to practice – there is no support, there are lots of distractions, and it’s often a downright miserable experience, furthering everyone’s bad feelings about math. Even parents usually feel stress about math homework!

So, I stopped giving homework. Does that mean getting rid of practice? No way! It means shifting practice time to my classroom and it’s the best thing I did for learning in my class. Here are some of my favorite consequences:

1. All of my students do the practice now and -surprise!- they realize that they are not dumb! It quickly becomes clear that *everyone* has to wrestle with the first few problems. (It’s called learning!) During problems 1-4, everyone is consulting their notes and following the in-class examples. By the time they round the corner on problem 6, they’ve usually got it. The difference is that my struggling learners would give up before they got out of the weeds, so they never got to feel smart. Shifting practice time to class means that I’m walking around to help, remind and cajole where necessary. The students who never do homework are stuck with me baby-stepping them through problem one, and more often than not, they settle in and do problem two.

2. I am very aware of how well my lesson went. I can see who’s getting it and who’s not. I can see which kinds of problems are giving the most trouble, so I can focus on those tomorrow. If I’m getting the same question over and over again, I can stop the class and give a clarifying example or mini-lesson to everyone (and know how to tweak this lesson for next time). It’s awesome formative assessment!

3. Ownership shifted to the students. They are no longer doing the assignment *for me*. They are practicing until they know it. I have them use our standards-based grading scale to rate their knowledge as they finish, so there’s always the question of “Do I need more practice on this topic?” They may even decide to take extra work home -and I hope they do if they need it- but it’s their decision to make, not mine.

Of course, I’ve had to do a lot of restructuring to make this work, and I’m sure each teacher would do this differently. I prepare:

- Extra practice pages (with detailed answer keys). I encourage them to take a picture of the answers if they’re taking it home.
- A stamp sheet (here’s an example) since I don’t collect practice work (they complete it in their notebook with their notes). I have them turn this in on test day.
- A what-to-do-when-I-finish routine to account for varied work times; it defeats the purpose if my most confused students have to finish alone at home.
- A short, daily quiz at the beginning of class to replicate the independent, after-a-break thinking that homework usually provides. It’s graded, but fixable and we go over it together as another layer of learning. It’s
*the*place to get those lingering questions answered.

Getting rid of homework has revolutionized my classroom. My students are empowered, while at the same time I have much more contact with each one. It’s a work in progress, of course, that gets more refined every year, but I love it!

There are many different ways to do standards-based grading (also known as proficiency-based grading), and this is the model I landed on:

**4 (A) – Mastery **(can do & extend)

**3 (B) – Proficient **(can do)

**2 (C) – Approaching Proficiency** (can do *with help*)

**1 (D) – Beginning Stage **(cannot do)**0 (I/F) – Not turned in**

So, if my student gets a C, it means they can do the math *if* someone’s there to give them hints. It says nothing about their effort, their behavior, or how many assignments they didn’t finish- just how competent they are at what I’ve taught them. Here are some of my favorite aspects in my classroom:

- The responsibility for learning is squarely on the student’s shoulders. I didn’t “give” them that grade. There is evidence for everything in the gradebook, and usually ample opportunity to fix it, when it finally sinks in a little later. Such a hopeful model!
- Grades are no longer a judgement on how smart (or compliant) a student is, but just indicate how well they know a topic. A glance at the grade book shows that Exponents are mastered, but Transformations need a little work.
- It revolutionized the way I test. Standards-Based Grading led me to think in terms of topics: What are the most basic elements that
*all*of my students- literally anyone present in my class that day- should be able to do (C grade)? What do I want*most*of my students to be able to do to be “proficient” (B grade)? What kind of extension problems do I want my*top*students to be able to do (A grade)? When I looked at my tests I realized that over half of my questions were A & B level problems. That meant that my level 2 students (“can do it*with help”*), who should’ve received a C, were instead getting less than 50% ~ an F! I had to think a lot more about what I wanted my tests to do, and my grades became much more meaningful as a result.

This is an example of a Practice Check Sheet in my class. Students get a stamp when they finish each set of practice/homework problems, but my absolute favorite part is the “Mastery Score.” That’s where a student rates their own knowledge of this particular topic. If their page is full of 3’s and 4’s they should get a 3 or a 4 on the test. (If they don’t, they need to reevaluate what “proficient” feels like. That itself is valuable learning!) If they feel like they’re at a 1 or a 2 on a topic, *they need more practice. *And they know it! In fact, they are the only ones who can judge that. It alters the whole purpose of practice work (which I always have at the ready) and removes the shroud of mystery from the dreaded math test. It’s just a whole different game and it feels respectful, approachable and hopeful. I love it!

Homework is a (regrettable) part of life. But math class is the ideal place to train our students for the inevitable frustration. It turns out, these are transferrable skills that they can use whenever they’re up against something tough on their own.

During the first day or two of class we brainstorm healthy and effective ways to cope with being stuck and frustrated. The following is a compilation of some of my students’ best ideas. (These are good for test anxiety, too.)

This Transformations Foldable is a great, portable set of notes to access at home.

It is my experience that most people hate math class. But why?

One big reason is that math class is where you’re most likely to be called on and have the wrong answer. Math class can feel humiliating and hopeless!

One antidote is not complicated at all: just give everyone ample opportunities to be right! Being right is a great feeling. And being right after some kind of “productive struggle” can be downright exhilarating!

Here are some easy ways to stack our classes with success – especially for those struggling learners:

*Build good relationships*; let them know you are on the same side!*Set up a classroom environment where**mistakes are our friends*. That can alleviate some of the anxiety of being called on.*Use a (mostly) random method to select students*. This works best with a good*pause*between the asking of the question and the calling on an answerer. This takes the pressure off in a few ways- it gives time to think since they don’t have to race to the answer, wrong answers (but good thinking and a discussion) become routine because anyone is up for grabs, and you build trust as a safe person who won’t make them feel stupid when they share their thinking process. You could use the old draw-popsicle-sticks method, or a seating chart randomizer like Smart Seat, or just a check list to make sure you get to all the students. Best of all,*Incorporate**low threshold activities**Warn struggling students*that you’ll be calling on them next, so they are not blindsided and can pay closer attention to the question.*Start simple*. There’s no reason you can’t turn the lead-in review information into a question. Call on your struggling learners for that one.*String them along*. Don’t let them be wrong! Break it down into the small steps, rather than just asking for the answer.*Ask them questions you know they know the answer to!*Perhaps you’ve been circulating around the classroom and already glanced at their paper. Or maybe it was the problem you just complimented or helped them with.

And above all, celebrate, celebrate, celebrate! Rejoice in everyone’s contributions. Find the good thinking underneath the incorrect answer. Treat them like their comment has made your day. To me, it’s a real triumph to see the shy or downtrodden student come around to participate in math class.

Perhaps the most impactful expression I came across as a brand new teacher was “Math is Figure-out-able!” Not memorizable; figureoutable. When I was a kid math was taught differently; you had to memorize everything and regurgitate it later. There wasn’t time to think, or play with ideas, or problem solve- just drill, drill, drill. The Common Core has changed all that (often to parents’ chagrin!), emphasizing the reasoning and the processes behind what we do, rather than just memorizing unfathomable procedures. And the very idea that we *already know* what we need to solve a tough problem can instill confidence right from the start.

The best tool I’ve found for shifting this mindset is in the Common Core itself. Take a look at the Standards of Mathematical Practice. They are not very user friendly, but when translated into actionable phrases they can be used as lifelong problem solving skills that we practice every single day. Here is the list I use:

**Try Stuff!***(MP1 Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.)*

When you don’t know what to do, try*something*! There is always something to try, even when the initial panic of a new problem feels paralyzing. Trying literally anything will often get the ball rolling.**Break it Down***(MP2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively.)*

Can you break it into smaller steps that you know how to do, or smaller problems that you can do one by one?**Does This Make Sense?***(MP1 Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. & Reason abstractly and quantitatively.)*

Before you go down a rabbit hole, ask yourself if it makes sense to do what you are doing. Does your solution actually answer the question?**Justify My Answer – Demand Proof***(MP3 Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.)*

In math we always have to “show our work,” but what we’re really doing is justifying our answer. How did I get my answer? If your answer is different, whose is right? Explain your thinking to me… our discussion will help us both!**Model with Math***(MP4 Model with mathematics.)*

Math is so useful! It can take complicated world relationships and conundrums and turn them into an equation we know how to solve. Powerful!**Use My Tools***(MP5 Use appropriate tools strategically.)*

We have so many tools at our disposal: pencil & paper, calculators, multiplication charts, rulers, our fingers, class notes & examples, the list goes on. Try one!**Check My Work***(MP6 Attend to precision.)*

This is related to several other “figureoutable skills” – does your answer make sense? Glance quickly back over to catch any silly mistakes. (2 + 5 does*not*equal 9…)**Look for Patterns & Shortcuts***(MP8 Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning. & MP7 Look for and make use of structure.)*

If something is happening over and over, notice it! There’s no need to reinvent the wheel every problem. And often, it turns out to be a lead-in to tomorrow’s lesson.

I have these posted in my classroom and I refer to them all the time. (Here’s a printable to use in your own classroom, too.) I try to congratulate my students anytime I notice them using one of the skills- especially when they don’t have the right answer yet. These skills are foundational for discovery lessons, where students have to dig into their past to decide how to attack something new.

My hope is that these habits will become so automatic, students will use them anytime they face a new problem, whether on homework, standardized tests, or in future classes. At the very least, if they get stuck during an in-class test, they can look at the wall for inspiration.

Here’s a really fun problem to practice with that I’ve adapted from a MindYourDecisions post. This works for an after school club or a day just before a holiday break. The kind of thinking needed to solve it takes time, so there’s plenty of opportunity to point out the different skills and showcase how they help.

If we want to change how our students feel about mistakes, our classroom has to be a safe place to make them.

Once upon a time my brand new husband and I were driving 600 miles to our tiny new apartment. It was the middle of the night and the middle of nowhere when we stopped for gas. The keys were in my hand as I gathered up all our bottles and wrappers to throw away and, – you guessed it – I dropped the keys in the giant gas station trash can! This could’ve been a moment of frustration that hovered like a storm cloud over the rest of our drive, but for some reason, it struck me as funny. I just started cracking up! We still had to fish the keys out of the trash can, but that laughter saved our trip.

Our attitude and the attitudes around us really influence our experience. Students come with a variety of attitudes:

“I like math; it’s like a puzzle.”

“I’m good at math.”

“I hate math and I can’t do it.”

This one certainly has an underlying cause, maybe

“I understand math differently than you.”

“I need more time.”

“I’ve just had bad math experiences.”

Everyone benefits from a class where mistakes are our friends.

- The students who’ve had bad math experiences start having good ones.
- The students who understand it differently feel safe to share their thinking. This is crucial because not everyone will see math the way I do, but
*another student*will probably share their view. That’s validating! It also builds my arsenal of teaching tricks on that topic; win-win! - The students who need more time are less discouraged. They persevere and keep practicing until it settles in.
- The students who are “good at math” will inevitably come up against a topic that is tough for them – we all do! – and these students haven’t had a lot of practice being wrong. It may shake the foundation of their math identity: “Maybe I’m not really good at math after all…” Learning to embrace their mistakes will get them through the crisis.
- Honestly, the puzzle kids are the ones who inherently see mistakes as okay. They’ll be right at home.

What about our attitude as the teacher? Well, mistakes-are-our-friends can *be* our attitude. We can demonstrate handling our own mistakes positively and our students won’t need to fear the common feedback from mistakes, like their teacher’s disappointment, frustration, or ridicule. – Just hope and celebration for the really good thinking that led to a really useful wrong answer.

My free Slope-Intercept Tarsia Puzzle is a fun way to get students working together while practicing good old y = mx + b. If you’re lucky, a few mistakes will come up, too.

What’s it like to have a bully in your life?

Being repeatedly shamed and humiliated. Feeling powerless to make it better. Dreading school…

That sounds like math class for too many American kids. Somehow, students learn from their math experiences that they hate math and they can’t do it. And the kicker is that math is a core class that they will have, day in and day out, their entire school career. How daunting every day!

I love what Larry Martinek’s said: “Children don’t hate math. What they hate is being confused, intimidated, and embarrassed by math.” And that’s where we come in! As teachers, we have the power to help. We can take the confusion, intimidation, and embarrassment out of our classrooms. We can start right now to rehabilitate the math-class bully.

My friend Bonnie used to promise her 6th and 7th grade students that math would be their favorite class! I never felt that confident, but why not? Math gives us the chance to think, to ponder, to collaborate, and to figure stuff out. And figuring it out is one of the best feelings ever- you are brilliant! You are a conqueror! You got it!

In my own experience, my graduate class with Jim Cangelosi made me feel success every single day. He would ask us questions, but somehow we never got them wrong. If I was off base, he didn’t move on to another answerer; he’d keep the conversation going with me until I arrived at the right conclusion. Maybe it was an aha moment for me, maybe not, but either way he’d celebrate, raising both hands above his head in a cheer, as though I’d just personally made his day. He did that with every student, every question. *That* was a feel-good math class.

Number talks are a great way to make everyone feel like they belong. (Jo Boaler explains them so well here.) One of my favorites for my 8th grade class was something simple, like 18 + 27. After giving sufficient time for everyone to find the answer, we’d start a discussion: “How did you find your answer?” Someone might say, “I took 2 from the 27 to make 18 into 20 and then I added it to 25.” So I’d write 18 + 2 + 25 on the board and stop to ask who else did it that way. Insert celebration here: “That’s the way I do it too!” or “I’ve never thought of it this way- how cool!’ or “Smart way to see that connection to 20…” And then ask, “Who did it a different way?” This can take a while sometimes, but it’s a great discussion, where everyone feels included and valued. And there’s a certain camaraderie when students realize that others see it the way they do.

Here are some ideas to combat the math-class bully:

**Celebrate!**Correct answers are great, but wrong answers show great thinking and great connections along the way. Celebrate them all!**Help everyone feel success.**The productive struggle is only productive if it gets resolved. For struggling students, scaffold your question carefully, so they will see the answer and be able to answer it, if they listen. Prove to them that they can do it!**Share stories.**This came home to me at a Chris Thile concert. He segued between every single song with a story (that may or may not be related!) and it really made the performance feel intimate. So, before you talk about slope, share your steepest hill. Or talk about your family’s Tetris obsession to introduce area and perimeter. Open it up to students’ experiences sometimes (use your discretion) but find ways to make it personal. That’s what draws people together.**Do something fun**even if it’s just using the mini whiteboards or making the worksheet problems into a bingo game.__every____day__–

Whatever you do, make your class a fun, safe place where everyone gets the right answer from time to time and where everyone belongs.

Can you think of a time your mistake led to something really great?

When I was a kid my mom would often drag us to her latest artistic interest. Los Angeles was full of them: a garden, a gallery, a house by a famous architect. Many times as we drove around trying to find the place, I’d hear her say, “Oh! I know where we are- I got lost here once!” That woman knows LA inside and out because of all the times she got lost there!

Think about learning something new:

- An overdrawn checking account can lead to better financial habits, so it never happens again.
- Flat cookies mean we’ll never forget the baking soda.
- A loud wrong note in choir gets it fixed early on, so we aren’t still singing it wrong at the concert.
- Tossing out our failures at steeping, grinding, or pressing leads us to make a really great cup of coffee!
- And certainly, falling off the bike helps us to tweak our technique until we can ride off into the Upside Down.

Somewhere along the way, people got the idea that not knowing the right answer means they are bad at math. But making mistakes is *the very process* of learning! It doesn’t make us stupid, it makes us smart!

My favorite illustration of this concept (and one I show the first day of my class every year) is this clip from Meet the Robinsons: