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Thursday / September 20

6 Reasons to Jumpstart Your Mathematics Class This Year!

I’ve sabotaged so many potentially wonderful lessons. I’ve run out of time during class more times than I care to mention or can even count. I’ve lamented about my students’ number sense and reasoning. I’ve been disappointed when they weren’t engaged. I’ve complained. Until someone asked, in a surprisingly negative tone, “What are you doing about it?”

Surely, the problem couldn’t have been me? It turns out that it was me and I did something about it. I jumpstarted my mathematics class.

I decided to take a stab at number sense, reasoning, engagement, and discussion for just a few minutes each day. I decided that students would have a chance to play with numbers and share ideas. I decided that it was time to rethink the way I wasted the first few minutes of class. There were six reasons I needed to jumpstart my mathematics class, and daily routines for number sense and reasoning were a solution for me

Reason #1: No More Hijacked Lessons

The time-honored traditions of opening mathematics class with warmups or homework reviews might do more to hijack class time than to honor it. The opening few minutes of a mathematics class offer a rich opportunity to capture the attention of students and prepare them for the lesson ahead. That is why it is such a critical time to help students shed their distractions, capture their attention, and jump-start their brains (SanGiovanni, 2018).

Jump-Start Routines provide teachers with practical and engaging activities to complement each day’s instruction and foster students’ understanding of essential math concepts. See the excerpt below for an example of one of these routines, “More or Less.” This routine prompts students to reason about how results compare to a benchmark. They are encouraged to estimate results based on their number sense and reasoning rather than complete tedious calculations.

© Corwin, 2018. SanGiovanni, J., Milou, E. Daily Routines to Jump-Start Math Class, Middle School.

 Reason #2: Number Sense

Think about a student who is successful in your mathematics class. What makes him or her come to mind? This question prompts all sorts of answers, but the most frequent answer is that they have number sense. These students have an intuition about numbers. They estimate and manipulate. They understand magnitude and relationships.

Unfortunately, teaching number sense isn’t done through a lesson or a unit. It’s not one specific standard. Number sense is developed through exposure and experience, through play with numbers, through the exchange of ideas about numbers. Routines were a way to do this because they provide brief, engaging prompts about number relationships and operations

Reason #3: Thinking and Reasoning

Mathematics is more than the pursuit of answers. Doing math is more than highlighting and circling. It is more than blindly following steps in a procedure. Mathematics must be about thinking and reasoning. Routines afford all students to do just that. They present interesting number problems. They also help students develop reasoning by exposing them to the reasoning and strategies of others. Routines help students see that sometimes we estimate and sometimes we find exacts but we always have to think.

Reason #4: Meaningful Practice

I’ve said more than a few times that your homework should not be longer than you are. Yet, that wasn’t our daughter’s 6th grade experience. Forty problems of rote procedure are more than mundane. They are how one falls out of love with math. They can also be how one develops limited thinking and possible misconceptions.

Instead, starting with a number sense routine is an opportunity for engaging, meaningful practice. It’s an opportunity for students to exercise their mental mathematics and reasoning in diverse ways so that understanding is reinforced and transferred. And it elevates my understanding of them – as people and as mathematics students – beyond a procedure or answer.

Reason #5: It Doesn’t Take Much

Quality practice doesn’t have to be lengthy practice. Student number sense and reasoning can be developed in just a few minutes a day over the course of a year or years. Imagine what you could do with 3 to 4 weeks of instruction focused on number relationships, operational sense, estimation, and problem solving. Number and reasoning routines for just 5-7 minutes a day can offers you 3 to 4 weeks in a year to do just that.

Reason #6: Practical and Doable

Rich tasks, good resources, and beneficial activities don’t have to be eccentric or complicated. They can be practical and doable. Routines are revisited and reused over the course of a few days or weeks so we can learn a routine once and use it many times. New examples can be shared among colleagues or created by students themselves. It’s also nice to know that the start of each class is primed and ready to go with minimal effort and nothing to copy.

So, maybe you’re looking for a way to ignite student engagement. Maybe, you want to get your students thinking and reasoning. Maybe, like me, you’ve said too often that your students’ number sense is lacking. Maybe you are looking for a practical way to enhance your instruction. Maybe you’re just looking for something new. Maybe you should jumpstart your mathematics class with number sense routines.

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Written by

John SanGiovanni is a mathematics supervisor in Howard County, Maryland. There he leads mathematics curriculum development, digital learning, assessment, and professional development for 41 elementary schools and more than 1,500 teachers. John is an adjunct professor and coordinator of the Elementary Mathematics Instructional Leader graduate program at McDaniel College. He is an author and national mathematics curriculum and professional learning consultant. John is a frequent speaker at national conferences and institutes. He is active in state and national professional organizations and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. John is the author of two Corwin books: Mine the Gap for Mathematical Understanding (3-5) and Mine the Gap for Mathematical Understanding (K-2)

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Latest comments

  • I have tried to access the link material to good resources with my account details but it is telling me that these are no longer available. Can they please be made re-available?

    • mm

      Thank you for letting us know! We’ll look into it and get that fixed.

  • Mine the Gap for Grades 3-5 doesn’t work

    • mm

      It should be fixed momentarily!

  • Excellent presentation/concept to help young minds begin to appreciate and not fear mathematics. It is a shame that America is behind other nations in mathematics successes by our students; maybe “radical” concepts such as this will help turn around that trend.

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