3 Stretch Goals for Math Teaching This Year

A MiddleWeb Blog

Meaningful-Math-logo2Another first day of school is in the books! This is my 10th year in the classroom. As usual, I was too nervous to sleep the night before my students arrived for their first day.

Every August, even before I begin planning my activities for the first week, I set my personal goals for the upcoming school year. That way I know I can begin working on them from the very first day.

After much thought I settled on three stretch goals for 2016-17.

1. Get to know my students in more than a superficial way

The last few years I have not spent enough time really getting to know my students. I felt like I could not spare any time during the all-too-short class period to make small talk. But this year I am making it a priority to get to know them better.

The pressure to “cover everything” is always there, but I really want to find out what they are interested in and what is going on in their lives away from school. After all, I will be asking these kids to work hard and be willing to make mistakes. It’s my responsibility to do whatever I can to make them feel comfortable and safe in my classroom.

And from a purely personal level, many times the best part of my day is when I take the time to make small talk with one of my students.

2. Use formative assessment effectively

This is the second year in a row that I have had this as one of my personal teaching goals. I still feel like I need to improve in this area. I am going to concentrate on using technology for a portion of the formative assessment in my classroom (an area in which I was sorely lacking last year). Watch for a future blog post about that!

3. Be joyful and inspire enthusiasm in my students

I am setting a goal to be more enthusiastic. Last year there were many days I wasn’t conveying joy or a positive attitude.

I love teaching and I get excited about math, but I wasn’t always transmitting that to my students. Thinking back to my own days as a student, I always enjoyed classes taught by teachers who were energetic and engaging. I want to be that kind of teacher more often.

investigating-piInvestigating Pi

First: What do we expect from this class?

With my goals set, I planned out my activities for the first day. School started this past Wednesday and I was able to put my plans in action. I began by reviewing my expectations. I really went back and forth on this. I wanted to start with team building exercises or games, but I have found that it works better for me if I share my expectations the very first thing.

This year I provided my students with a Syllabus Doodle for them to take notes on and color as we discussed classroom expectations.


It’s a free download and designed for grades 6-12.

I was afraid some of my students would think coloring was “kid stuff,” but they seemed to enjoy it, and the interactivity seemed to help them stay focused. (As a bonus I can use the completed syllabi to decorate my room!)

Building classroom culture

After I went over my expectations I explained to my students that any successful math classroom is a partnership and I wanted to know what they expected of me.

This is the first year that I have done this. I did it because I wanted to start working on my goal of getting to know my students better, and that includes knowing what their expectations are for our class.

To help me (and my students) discover their expectations, I used and adapted some prompts I saw on the awesome math blog Middle School Math Rules!

The first prompt was:

Mrs. Russell can be most helpful by____________________.

I also created theses two prompts:

1.) What can Mrs. Russell do to make this class more enjoyable?

2.) ______________ will help me learn in math class.

I used the app Poll Everywhere to collect student responses. There’s a paid version but the free version is really good. Students enter their responses at PollEv.com (they can also text their replies) and the software immediately displays all the individual responses in a word cloud. The resulting word cloud below is from the responses my students in one class gave to my prompts.

I plan to post the word clouds from all my classes in our classroom to remind me of my students’ expectations.

Learn more about Poll Everywhere
in this MiddleWeb post

Closing with an engaging activity

To wrap up our first class together with something engaging (Goal #3), I showed a short Numberphile video in which math professor and toy inventor Tadashi Tokieda uses a $20 bill to demonstrate human reaction time. It’s actually pretty interesting, I promise! You can talk about the math in ways best suited for your age group.

The students in all my classes seemed to enjoy the video, and they especially liked testing their own reaction time with the $5 bill I brought to class. (Teachers are always on a budget!) I was happy that the first day ended on a high note, and I’ll be exploring the many other Numberphile videos looking for more attention-getting demonstrations (like this fun one, A Mile of Pi).

I have to say I’m relieved to get past the first few days of school. As always, there are things I did that I am not happy with, but on the whole I think the first (short) week went well. Now to continue working on my goals for the rest of the year!

Have you set some teaching goals for this year? Will you share one in the comments?

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell (@michel1erussel1) is a math teacher at Florence (AL) High School. She began her career as a student teacher in middle school and has taught students from 7th to 12th grade. For the past 13 years, she's taught high school math, including Algebra IB, Algebraic Connections, Pre-Calculus, AP Statistics, Algebra with Finance, and Algebra 2 with Trigonometry. In her free time, she enjoys reading books about math education and following other teachers on Twitter.

11 Responses

  1. Tracey says:

    Love your ideas…as I am in my 11th year and always looking for new ideas to incorporate in order to provide more enthusiasm both for students and myself!

    • michelle russell says:

      Thank you! I think you said it perfectly, I found that it’s important to do things that make me enthusiastic and then the students pick up on that.

  2. Lori J Brawley says:

    As a high school math teacher, I really enjoyed your article (3 goals) posted on NCTM Daily- or Math SmartBrief. I will, again, have 2 Algebra 1 classes next year, and I might use some of your techniques for first days. I’ve been teaching since 1986.
    Our ‘personal goals’ for evaluation are more strict than yours. We have to prove with numbers that we meet our goals. It has always been a pleasure of mine in my job to get to know students. You will find it very rewarding.

    • michelle russell says:

      Thank you for your insight! We set professional goals at our school as well, but I enjoy setting personal goals purely for myself. I have already seen a difference in my classroom since I have started trying to get to know my students better.

  3. Kathleen Stensrud says:

    I have very similar goals. I went to two different trainings last week and in both I realized that I want to really get to know my students and what is important to them as fifth graders. I am also looking at using formative assessment data more effectively. My third goal is to incorporate Project Based Learning into my teaching. Hopefully these three things will support each other. I don’t have students until Aug. 29 th so my activities are not set just yet. Thanks for the great blog post.

    • michelle russell says:

      Thank you so much! I wish I was more knowledgeable about project based learning. That might be one of my goals next year!

  4. Wendy says:

    Awesome read! I teach 5th grade math and I love your prompts for the students to tell you how you can be helpful! I plan on implementing this idea along with the words cloud!

    • michelle russell says:

      Thank you! It seemed to work well. I was pleasantly surprised with how seriously my students took the assignment. Good luck!

  5. Greg Clites says:

    Great post with excellent ideas. Now is the time to get charged up for another fun, challenging year!!

  6. Eman says:

    I like what you said – it’s really helpful

  7. Pauline M Walls says:

    Any good suggestions for a math interventionist k-8? I work inside the classrooms, I progress monitor students, I review data and use that to guide my instruction.

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