Robin Zaruba contributed this post on math warm-ups. She has taught elementary and middle school math in the Denton, Texas Independent School District for 23 years.
It’s one of the oldest problems in teaching – managing transitions. Every time the bell rings, students are up, they’re walking the halls, they’re chit-chatting. Three minutes later another bell rings – but how many are where they’re supposed to be and ready to work?
When I first started teaching, a few minutes here and there didn’t seem like a big deal. But now I appreciate the importance of strong math warm-ups.
In my teacher education classes, I was never taught about DoNows, “bell-ringers,” or math warm-ups. But once I moved from elementary to middle school, I had to find time to get situated and take attendance while students were entering and exiting the classroom. I needed something to keep my students busy right away. Idle hands and all that…
Some of my peers use test prep questions for math warm-ups, but I want to start the period with a little more fun, creativity, and discussion. Through my weekly bell-ringer routines, my students have learned that math is so much more than just preparing for a test.
A Weekly Schedule for Math Warm-Ups
My math warm-ups have changed over time, but I have finally found something that works for me. This weekly schedule gets my students engaged and provides structure to transition into my lesson. Every day, my students have a 3-7 minute math warm-up based on the day of the week.
First is Mindset Monday, followed by T-table Tuesday, and “Which One Doesn’t Belong” Wednesday. We finish the week with ThinkFun Thursday and Futures Friday.
Having a weekly schedule of math warm-ups makes things easy for everyone. Instead of trying to come up with a new activity every day of the year, I can use these structures, adapting them for the standards we are currently working on.
The weekly schedule is also great for my students. If we did the same activity every day, they would get bored. But if it was completely new each day, they would be dependent on me to get started. This way, they have enough variety, while still being able to feel competent and work independently.
For Mindset Monday’s, we begin the week by cultivating a positive mindset to build engagement and motivation. First, my students copy the weekly agenda into their notebooks. This helps build meta-cognition and student ownership. When students understand where we are headed, it helps them to understand the purpose of each day’s activity.
Then we spend a few minutes focusing explicitly on mindset. Some days, I provide questions and writing prompts that I have collected from various resources.
Other days, I show short videos about growth mindset and brain plasticity, followed by one or two questions about how the video applies to them. One video that really stood out for my students was how fleas were trained to stay in a jar, even after the lid was removed. My students were very curious about this concept and were quick to see how they could be conditioned to not “jump as high” if restrictions were put on their learning.
On T-table Tuesday, we focus on using tables to organize data and build students’ understanding of functions. We start with an input/output table with partial data. Next, they plot the points on a Cartesian grid. Finally, they determine the equation based on the table’s slope and y-intercept.