Do you have an attitude about math?
Let’s get real… We ALL have some attitude about math. Maybe it is enthusiastic and intrigued or apprehensive and annoyed? Our students come to us with a wide range of what I like to call “Math Stories”. Some come loving math and knowing exactly how to seek challenge but ask for help when overwhelmed. Then, we have students that are so intimidated by the idea of math they avoid and try just enough to get by.

As (math) teachers we know we’re working against math’s bad wrap with kids (and lots of adults.. err our students’ parents?)! It’s my mission to ensure everyone in my class & school know that math is for everyone!

My first move in welcoming students to math class is to show them how FUN math can be. We get hands on, we make mistakes that help us learn and we talk about math.
I also make sure they know I care about what they think. I show them this by asking them questions and listening to their responses without judgement. I achieve this through what I call “discourse”. We start discourse by learning about one another and establishing norms. We talk about our “math numbers” and share silly stories about our math pasts.

Once we’ve started to establish ourselves as a crew, I have students complete the attitude survey. It gets them thinking about where they are with math. Then, we bring our ideas to the circle. I let kids talk about their “math attitude”. I don’t respond with promises that that this year will be different; I let them talk. I don’t react. I keep a neutral, supportive response. Kids don’t know what to do at first. Some kids start to get brave and will throw out a really crazy idea like, “Math homework is SO boring. I never do it.” I sit, listening intently with a neutral response. The other kids eyes dart to my face and back to the speaker, I’m sure they’re thinking, “Isn’t she going to say something?!”
Next brave kid, “Yeah, I cheat on my homework because it doesn’t matter.” I think, “oOh middle schoolers”… neutral face, still listening.

Side note: we always circle up for discourse. Because everyone can see each other in the circle, we’re all equally a part of it, no one is left behind. We can hold each other accountable to be present and participating. We can acknowledge each other’s presence and work together with ease. The circle is broken if someone isn’t fully in, we all have to be present in the circle. The circle is an important building block of the culture. Give it a try, then let me know how it went for you!

Okay, okay but you’re probably thinking but WHY? or maybe you’re thinking… “Sounds nice, Mona, but…”
Hear me out– I want my kids to trust me when I say “In math we take risks. We respect each other’s ideas. We listen.” So, I let them take risks from the start. I listen to them. I respect their attitudes, opinions and ideas.

Now that being said, prior to this we establish norms & uphold those norms no matter what. So, respect and active listening are non-negotiable. I’ll jump in if they won’t stop laughing, say something inappropriate or just get totally off track. Maybe this isn’t your style, find your style… but find a way to let your kids speak their truth in a safe environment where you don’t talk and you just listen.

But that’s not where it ends…
We use their math attitudes and we build on them. What do you want math to be? What kind of homework is helpful? How can we help each other learn and get good grades? Do grades matter?Why? How those of us who love math help others change their math ‘tudes?

It’s not about me and my vision. It’s about what we (the students and I) can do together. So I plan for conversations. I plan for how I can use tools like this attitude survey to help students reflect, take risks and build a classroom culture they can thrive in. Use any tool you have, but take time to plan for how you’ll debrief the task and how you’ll take that debrief into action.

Want to give it a try?
Grab my math attitude survey on Teachers Pay Teachers. I truly use this every year and find it so helpful. I’d love to hear how you use it in your classroom with your students!

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