Education Technology

How to Start the Year on a Math High

Posted 09/30/2019 by Emily Kraus

As we settle into the new school year, we find ourselves in the perfect position to set the tone in our math classes. We’ve all experienced students who are hesitant learners — they come in with the mindset that they hate math or aren’t good enough to make it through the school year. If this attitude isn’t addressed from the start, it can make or break their experience and chances of success.

Fortunately, there are several ways to gently help students of all types ensure they approach math with a positive mindset and feel comfortable and confident. It is crucial to establish a positive, engaging and welcoming environment for all learners, especially the most reluctant. Here are five ways you can start the year on a math high.

1. Warm and inviting presence
While I am a sucker for bright bulletin boards and a motivational quote, you create your classroom environment. Smile — a lot. Your energy is contagious, and while it is important to set and maintain clear rules and expectations, positive energy always wins. Feeling welcomed, valued and seen is the best way to get buy-in, especially for our math-conscious students. With that initial smile at the door, you are already establishing that today, and every day, will be great in math class.

2. Clear and consistent routines
As the saying goes, “what is essential for some is beneficial for all,” and this is so true in all areas of our life, including our classroom routines. I learned very early on in my career to never assume anything. When setting up my classroom, preparing for a lesson or creating an activity, I pretend that common sense does not exist.

For example, I store warm-up packets in my classroom bins, and every year we walk through how we pass out, hand in, and place our work in the bins. As childish as “now pass your packet to the right” may sound, I have never heard a grunt, sigh or complaint from anyone — even my eighth graders! Students thrive when they know exactly what is expected of them. So, while some students may not need those explicit instructions, all will benefit — every time.

Allowing students to know your expectations and their role in the classroom is vital to their success. Make sure to communicate what school supplies your students will need in your classroom, so they are set up for success.

3. Predictability
Predictability ties back to establishing clear expectations and routines. However, it goes much deeper. Each year, we introduce new and complex concepts that will rock our students’ world. When they know what to expect every single day, they can focus more on the actual math and less on the processes behind it. The more predictable their day is, the more fearless they will be. My goal is always that my students are able to run the classroom without me.

4. Ban “raising hands” in your classroom
Crazy, right? My students always look shocked when I tell them they are not allowed to raise their hands. This strategy guarantees that I call on each kid with the same frequency. While the level of questioning may vary, every student has the opportunity to share their thinking. This also holds every student accountable.

5. Tie in familiar concepts to instill confidence
Starting the year off with a math concept that students learned the previous year is a great way to kick off the curriculum on a high — especially when it is something they enjoyed and excelled at. What better way to encourage confidence than by leading with what’s familiar and demonstrating how it ties into something new?

As teachers, we trust that all of our students are capable of shining in our classrooms. It is our job to lay the groundwork for our students to feel the same.

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About the author: Emily Kraus has taught math in grades three through eight in Austin, Texas. She is the creator of Kraus Math®, which provides teachers with TEKS-aligned and STAAR® test-prep resources. Check out her website at, or follow her on Instagram @krausmath.