I mostly teach middle school math. It’s not usually the subject to which students look forward to returning from their summer. This year I tried to accentuate a version of what I have done in years past- engage students in how awesome numbers are, all while integrating the routines of the classroom. I mean, numbers are cool! So, this wasn’t too much of a stretch!

Early in a school year, one of the main routines that I think is critical to running a successful classroom is to teach what to do when students finish early. For me, if students are doing work that is meaningful, and math-related, for the entire period of time they are with me, the benefits will be plentiful- more teaching and learning time all around… and an exponential potential love for math!

However, teaching students the routine for finding interesting activities takes time in the first few weeks of school. I purposefully made lessons shorter than normal to provide time to practice going to the “extras.” I purposefully engaged the students in activities during the shorter lessons to make math learning fun, so that they would want math to continue after the lesson.

Sure, this year, I gave a few pre-assessments, and I also introduced my weekly skill assignments and procedures, however most of the time we kept it fun, we kept it new, we kept it about the numbers. For example, on the beginning of Palindrome Week, I showed the students a quick video about how this could be the last week until 2111, and then they were able to prove the video wrong with some eager thinking. That was exactly the lesson I wanted them to get out of the video, beyond what a palindrome was. I wanted them to learn to question the internet with their trust in themselves as math thinkers! So proud, so early in the year!! Then I taught them how to use addition to turn numbers into palindromes (403 + 304 = 707) and they were off to find the more challenging ones.

Two of my favorite overheard quotes of the day, from the middle schoolers:

“This is actually pretty easy. I’ve never done this before.”

And then when given the option of choosing what to do when finished my portion of the lesson, a student added, “Yes! We can continue the math!”

Mission accomplished. I have slowly moved into content, this third week of school, but my students are now engaged with numbers, and with math, and with themselves as math learners within our classroom.