How Does This Math Class Work? Creating a Positive Classroom Climate

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SWBAT reflect on and share previous math experiences. SWBAT identify key classroom procedures.

Big Idea

Students help create a positive learning environment with a focus on respecting each other's ideas, working in flexible groups, and focusing on the math!


20 minutes

The purpose of today's class is to show students how this class will work and let them know your expectations.  I think it is important to take the time to talk with students about what the course will be like, what they should expect from you, and what you will be expecting from them. I find that if classroom policies and procedures are addressed from the start, you can spend less time addressing them later (when problems arise), and more time on the math!  

I begin class by letting students know I would like to know more about them and their math experiences.  I hand out the Math Inventory sheet and let them work quietly on it. The survey gives me more information about my students and it lets them know that I care about them and am interested in both their previous experiences and their learning styles. I make sure to read the Inventories later and I note anything you should consider while teaching this particular group of students!

Depending on the size of the class, and if time permits, I have students share something from their Math Inventory with the whole class.  For example, I might have each student share his/her name from the class and if they love, hate, or feel ok about math.  I especially like to work with students who claim to "hate" math. I make a goal of trying to find a way for them to feel good about problem solving.  It is helpful to know who these students are right at the beginning of the school year.

For more information about why and how I use the Math Inventory, watch my video:


Organizing Our Work

20 minutes

I like to spend time in class creating an organization system with students so their work is organized and easy to access.  My school provides each student with a 1" black binder.  I hand out the binders and pass around labels so each student can put his/her name on the side of the binder. I also give each student three divider tabs and I have them label three sections for our class:  

  • Warm Ups
  • Class Work
  • Homework

I provide students with some white lined paper that they put in their class work section so they have a place to keep notes. A lot of students I work with struggle with organization.  In my class, because students will later work on Portfolios showing some of their best work, it is important that they keep ALL their assignments. I find keeping binders is the best way to have students do this.  

Once students have set up their binders, I show them where they should be kept. I keep a bookcase in my classroom and I ask students to keep their binders in the bookcase on a designated shelf. Generally, I do not like students to take their binders home from school.  I find they go missing too often. Instead, I give students a folder to take their homework home in.

Depending on the size of my class, at this point, I often have students practice walking in and out of the classroom.  This may sound juvenile, but it works!  I like students to say hello or good morning or give some kind of greeting when they come into the classroom.  I have them practice walking in, picking up their binder from the bookcase and saying hello.  They will laugh at this exercise, but it helps to set a positive classroom environment.  It also helps them practice the routine of getting started in class each day without asking to go get their binder, etc.

I also take time to show students where they can turn in and get back work that is late. I keep a tray with an Inbox and and Outbox on the side of my desk and let students know this is where they should turn in work if they are absent or have a late assignment.  I put outgoing student work in the Outbox for students who are absent on a day when I hand back their work.  It is also a good time to point out where other key things in the classroom are like a pencil sharpener, graph paper, scrap paper, calculators, etc.  



Syllabus Review

15 minutes

Next, I like to review the syllabus with students and let them know what kind of math we will be doing this year.  I also set expectations about how the math we will be doing might be different than math they have done in the past. I like to emphasize a few points:

  • We will work in flexible groups.  This means sometimes students will work individually, sometimes they will work in assigned groups, and sometimes they will get to choose who they work with. I try to have a seating assignment (whenever applicable) up on the board at the start of class on days they work in pre-determined groups.
  • Students should expect to have fun! I let students know they will be working on intriguing and engaging problems and I am interested in seeing how they approach problems and how they think!  
  • Students should expect to make mistakes!  I let students know that without making mistakes and trying something new, they are unlikely to learn much. I find students often have trouble just trying something and often prefer to be shown the answer. I encourage students to jump right in and not be afraid to make a mistake.
  • I let students know I expect them to do homework. I explain that homework is an important part of class and that it will be meaningful and not mindless work. I tell students that if they are not completing homework, it will be difficult for them to participate in class and keep up with the learning.  Sometimes I find just being vey clear about my expectations that they will do homework, increases the completion rate.


I also discuss my grading system at this time with students.  I am working to have my grading system focus most heavily on how students "show what they know."  To that end, I am working to weight assessments more heavily, while at the same time giving students multiple opportunities and different ways to demonstrate their learning. I try to emphasize with students that just coming and sitting in class and not creating disruptions doesn't mean I will just pass them.  In order to pass the class, they are responsible for showing their learning. Today's conversation helps frame many future conversations with students when they are struggling in class.

Closing and Homework

5 minutes

I close class today by letting students know I am excited to start working on math with them and getting to know them as learners.  As a homework assignment, I ask the students to work on a Math Autobiography.  I generally give them more than one night to work on this assignment. I like to tell students that their Math Autobiography will be included in their portfolio, so they will want to do their best writing.  The purpose of this assignment is two fold:

  • It gets students writing in the context of a math class
  • It lets you know more about them as learners