Saturday, April 16, 2016

Math Workshop: Starting Class

Welcome to week 3 of our Minds on Mathematics book study.  If you missed them you can go back and read Understanding Takes Time and Shallow Versus Deep Math.  

This week are going to look at how to start a day of math workshop.

The Opening

The first part of math workshop is the opening.  This is a time to invite learners to make connections and establish purpose.  The book outlines 4 parts to a successful math workshop opening.

Welcome Learners

If you are teaching a self contained classroom, this is your chance to make a transition to math class.   You might play a math song, check out a math you tube video, have kids share a favorite memory of math class or have some way to get kids pumped up that math is about to start.  If your students switch rooms for math and this is the first time you are seeing those students that day, this is your chance to greet kids at the door and work on making those connections with students.  It is your chance to work on developing community.  

 Activate Prior Knowledge with an Opening Exercise

What do your students already know that can help them with the day's problems?  How can you ask questions in such a way that students are engaged and feeling capable?  You are trying to convey that students already know some thing that can help them and that they are capable of being successful mathematicians.  "Offer students problems that invite challenge by choice; Let the first question be something everyone will likely know, followed by questions of increasing complexity that may feed into one one another, reminding learners of the concepts behind the mathematics."  I love how the book presents these tiered openings and it is definitely one of my goals to be more intentional with choosing questions like these for my openings. 

The other way to activate student knowledge is by having them consider a concept.  They might write everything they know about division or provide examples of vocabulary words that are likely to come up during the day's problem.  

My struggle with the opening of math class is always making sure it doesn't take more time than I allotted or take over the class entirely.  This is something I am still working on.  

Learners Setting Purpose for this Lesson

This is more than just writing your learning target on the board and having students read it.  It is about having students set goals for themselves.  What are they good at? What do they need to work on?  It might involve the topic for the day such as fraction division or it might involved one of the math practices such as attending to precision

Managing Homework

I have stuck to my resolution this year and not given any homework.  This is a decision I am quite happy with and have no plans to return to giving homework.  If you do give homework and want to work it into your opening, the author offers several suggestions.  

Your turn!  How do you open your math class each day?  What are the essential components for you?  How do you make sure your opening doesn't take over the entire class?  Please respond in the comments below.

Join us next week as we look at the mini lesson and work time in our Minds on Mathematics book study.  


  1. This gave me an idea of how I want to start my lesson tomorrow. I've got a great opening question in mind. Thank you!

  2. I love that you are writing this series. So often math workshop blogs are all about the centers so I appreciate that you are taking a bigger look at the full math class. I will definitely be pointing teachers in my building in your direction if they want to learn more about what a comprehensive math workshop looks like!

    The Math Spot

  3. This is such a great math series. I loved teaching math for many, many years and I am now a retired math teacher. In my spare time, I do some consulting, freelancing, and caring for my 6 grandchildren. My goal is to instill into all those who cross my path a love for math. I just started a blog at
    Keep writing!!

  4. Its an great idea to start a math workshop for kids. It's true that to start some classes you have to struggle but you are doing a great job so keep it up and thanks for sharing this idea.

  5. Tara--
    In small guided math groups I find "learners setting purpose for learning" really empowering for kids. They learn to feel ok about expressing what they would like to improve/explore more, and students' abilities to express what their strengths are/what they are able to do well is equally as important. This is a wonderful text--thanks for doing this study. I am heading back to read past posts...
    All the best--