In Praise of Warm Ups

I haven’t blogged much at all in this year of remote teaching, but I’m getting back at it now!

I’ve done a lot of work with teachers in the past few years, and one thing that keeps coming up is how much the warm up activity can be a game changer for classes.

As teachers, we can easily feel so overwhelmed with all the content we *must* teach, all that we have to somehow squeeze into one school year, that it can be really difficult to think about the other things you want to focus on. This includes the standards of math practice (persevering, problem solving!), number sense and estimation activities (Clothesline math, Estimation180), and stats and data exploration (What’s Going On in This Graph?), not to mention just having time to Play With Your Math. And of course, there’s always a need to find time to DebateMath!

So how do we fit it all in? How do we help develop mathematical and problem solving skills? How do we make time to help students see that math is more than this year’s curriculum?

My solution is to use the warm up time for this. I take 5-7mins (sometimes a little more or a little less) at the start of each class to do something that is outside the curriculum. Once a week, we notice and wonder at a NYTimes graph. Once a week we have a short debate or solve a math riddle. Each day, we start by seeing math as interesting, playful, and/or relevant. We might start an interesting puzzle or discussion that we can’t finish, but the rest is left for students to explore as they want to. Math might spill over into their lunch or family time later that day or another.

Not only does it get students wanting to get to class on time and get started, but it provides a joyful moment to start the class. It also shows students that math is not just about learning to use the quadratic formula. Students always write on their end of year surveys that those 5mins of “outside the box” math really changed the way they see math class. They see math as interesting and important.

And as a bonus, I see the students being more resilient and playful in the rest of the class. When they hit challenges in the curriculum, they approach them as puzzles. “Let’s see what we can figure out,” is a phrase I often hear.


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