The last couple of years I've switched the beginning of my year to something totally different: I don't cover any content the first day of school. I did a version of this last year and it ended up being reasonably successful so I expanded it. I've tried things a couple of different ways over the years and here's the conclusion I've drawn: taking the time to establish my classroom culture trumps any amount of content I can cover in the first three days of school.

I'm on a mission these days. I'm a math teacher by trade and someone who loves cognition by training; I like working with students and I love learning more about how to do this job better. Over the last couple of years I've had the chance to combine all of these things and this year I'm tracking.

Math anxiety is a real thing and I'm on a mission to systematically eliminate it from my classes. I'm not trying to ignore it. I'm actually trying to get rid of it. But first, I have to figure out what it is and how it affects my students and to do that, I have to know how they feel about math. And to do that, I have to ask them. There's no way I'll know anything if I don't talk with them about it and this year I decided to show them how much their attitudes and beliefs about learning math might impact how much math they actually learn.

On the first day we did an exercise I called "ONE WORD." I handed each student a notecard and asked them to write their name on the back and then on the front write a single word that describes how they feel about learning math and then I sorted them into categories. Negative words were things like

*hard, frustrating, hate, (makes me feel) stupid.*Positive words were things like

*confident, fun, interesting*. Neutral words were things like

*ok, nothing, idk*(which I realize is not one word). You can see the distribution in the graph below with the y-axis being percentage of my students and the x-axis being the categories.

You, like me, might be surprised by that fourth category. About 12% of my students wrote down an algorithm or formula or procedure. When I clarified with those students that what I wanted was something that told me about how they feel about learning math, they insisted again that they wanted to write down a formula. I'm not sure what to make of that yet.

I do know that some of the negative words made me really sad. Really and truly. How can a single subject make students feel as though they're legitimately stupid? What happened along the way for them to believe less of themselves as human beings because of their performance in one subject? One student that I interviewed about his card, which read "HATE," said to me, "I figure I just will never do math good, so it doesn't matter. That's why I hate it. It makes me dumb about everything." I was floored.

As we move through activities and exercises the goal is going to be to change this distribution. I'm, hopefully, going to completely get rid of those procedure words. The last thing I want my students to believe about math is that it's all formulas. After all, math should be all about discovery, good decision making, power through efficiency. Even more than that I want my students to know that math and intelligence, like intelligence and everything else, are not so closely linked that either is unchangeable. Can I prove it to them? I hope so.

Here goes nothing.