Ideas for the First Week of Math Instruction

“A great question for any teacher… is where to begin.” I remember David Coleman, one of the lead authors of the Common Core State Standards, saying this at a speech before educators in 2012. I find myself asking this same question as I prepare to teach math next academic year—especially those first few critical days of school in which I am trying to establish routines and procedures while simultaneously introducing content. Through serendipitous luck, or just smart enough to hang out with some really strong teachers**, I learned about Jo Boaler and her website

Dr. Boaler helpfully outlines tasks for the first five days of math instruction that address the Common Core, the mathematical practices, growth mindset, persistence, and are highly differentiated because they are “low floor and high ceiling.” Each comes with the requisite materials (free), demonstration videos, and annotations so you know that what you are implementing is grounded in evidence. The table below describes what the first five days can look like.

Day 1 Inquiry task, the four 4’s. Number operations MP1: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. MP6: Attend to Precision.
Day 2 Looking at numbers to “see” factors and multiples Factors, multiples, prime numbers, number relationships, algebraic expressions and equations MP7: Look for and make use of structure. MP8: Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning
Day 3 Paper folding task Area, fractions, triangles, squares, and estimation MP3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others and MP4 Model with mathematics
Day 4 World’s most famous triangle Patterns in number, triangular numbers, addition, powers MP1: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. MP7: Look for and make use of strcutre. MP8: Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning
Day 5 Seeing Shapes Algebraic thinking, generalization, forming an algebraic expression, algebraic equivalence MP1: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them MP2: Reason abstractly and quantitatively MP7: Look for and make use of structure

Dr. Boaler is a proponent of the Common Core and she outlines why through the video linked here. Moreover, she explains how practitioners can create a classroom where students have a “learning orientation towards math” and away from a “performance subject.” The video is worth a watch especially if you are struggling with ideas about how to make math more engaging for students.

**Thank you to Katie Penney and Janelle Turnier for introducing me to Jo Boaler and her website YouCubed.

About Aaron Grossman

I am a 5th grade teacher at Roy Gomm Elementary in Reno, Nevada. I started working with elementary students as part of the Montana Reads program and AmeriCorps. In 2001, after graduating from the University of Montana and moving to Reno, Nevada, I student taught at Rita Cannan Elementary before receiving a 6th grade position at Veterans Elementary. I moved out of the classroom to be a Literacy Coordinator, then an Instructional Coach, and finally a School Improvement Program Coordinator. In 2011, I began working on the Nevada Academic Content Standards in the district’s Curriculum & Instruction Department. I returned to the classroom for the 2015-2016 school year to teach 4th grade at Huffaker Elementary. Before returning to the classroom, I helped develop the Core Task Project that has been featured by National Public Radio, the Gates Foundation, American Radio Works, Eduwonk, the Fordham Institute, Vox, and the Center for American Progress. In 2014, I received the Leader to Learn From Award for my teacher-centered initiative and work to bring college, career, and civics ready outcomes into Northern Nevada classrooms (here). In 2015, I was appointed by Governor Sandoval serve on the Statewide RPDP Council. The same year, Nevada’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction Steve Canavero placed me on the state’s State Improvement Team. This year I will be part of the National Council on Teacher Quality’s Teacher Advisory Group. I am Google Certified Educator and a Nevada Teacher Ambassador. I believe strongly that teaching content is teaching reading and I make sure my students have ample opportunities to work with social studies, history, science and art outcomes. I do what I can to blend the learning for my students and this blog is part of that effort. You can contact me at
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