Dispelling the Myth of "Math" People

We live in a world where it is socially acceptable for the most educated adults to admit to being “bad” at mathematics or “not a math person.”  That same person could not easily get away with considering themselves “bad” at reading or “not a reading person.”  What does it mean to most people to be a math person?

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In society, a math person is someone who is naturally good at math and performs well in the subject, sometimes regardless of effort.  Math people are considered born with the ability to perform mathematical skills.  This type of thinking completely eliminates the idea that people can learn math through mastery of skills, rather than innate ability.  Many students enter the math classroom with the perception that regardless of their effort, they can never succeed at math because they are just not math people.  It is time for educators to dispel this myth for students, parents, and future generations.  Below are three ways to dispel this myth: 

  1. Changing the misconception of math people - parent attitudes towards math completely help shape their children’s attitudes towards mathematics.  If parents are communicating to their children that they cannot complete the work because they are “bad” at math, children are going to in turn believe the same can be said for them.  Society makes it acceptable to be “bad” at math because so many people believe math ability is only an innate thing.  Teaching parents that students have the ability to learn math through hard, consistent work can help to dispel this myth of math inability within children.    

  2. Customized, Individualized Learning - The approaches to mathematical learning have to change with the 21st century.  Technology has allowed for more customized and individualized learning opportunities for students.  Learning mathematics requires a solid foundation of concepts, but not all students learn at the same pace or in the same way.  Allowing for more individualized, customized learning can provide students with the opportunity to learn foundational concepts within their own timeframe.  

  3. Project Based Learning - Often many students feel they are “bad” at math simply because they find no enjoyment in the subject.  Students dislike the content because teachers are not providing an engaging and exciting learning environment for them. The information is taught in a rigid way that focuses on memorization for the purpose of regurgitation rather than learning for critical thinking, analytical thinking, and real world applications.  Educators should introduce project based learning as a tool for engaging students in mathematics in a new way.  Project based learning allows students to work together in small groups to solve a problem related to a specific mathematical topic they are learning.  It is a collaborative approach that teaches students problem solving skills, in addition to the math skills necessary for the task.  

Despite societal norms, being “bad” at math is a myth.  Mathematical knowledge and fluency is equally as important as reading or writing.  The introduction of new pedagogy, teaching methods, and changing the overall misconception of math people can aid in the pursuit of increasing mathematical fluency in students.    Math can be seen across the world daily and educators should be providing students with access to those experiences and knowledge. 

Experiential Learning: Chiji Processing Cards

Experiential learning is the process of learning through first-hand experiences or learning by doing.  Experiential learning allows educators to bring a variety of exciting ideas, materials, and activities to the classroom.  These activities reach beyond the scope of traditional classroom learning. Some of the activities may be hands-on, while others provide opportunities for students to think critically and reflect.  Chiji Processing Cards are an experiential learning tool that provide educators with an engaging way to get students to process information and debrief afterwards.

Each of the 48 cards has a unique image that acts aims to ignite discussion amongst individuals.  Typically, the instructor will pose a question and each student will select a card that is symbolic of their answer to the question.  The pictures provide a basis for students to process their thoughts. This works really well for students who struggle to articulate their thoughts clearly or who have a difficult time deciding where to begin.  

These processing cards have many benefits, but the ones that I have enjoyed the most are:

  1. Transferring ideas from the lesson to the real world through the images

  2. Helping students formulate their thoughts

  3. Teaching students how to reflect and the importance of reflection

I have used these processing cards at the beginning, middle, and ends of lessons.  They are great as a starter to the day because they can help to gauge how students are feeling.  They are great midday as a way to step away from the traditional way of learning and give students a chance to experience their learning through activities with the cards.  Finally, they are a great way to end lessons because they can serve as a tool to help students process all of the information from a lesson and reflect on the information learned.

Check out these amazing cards here: Chiji Processing Cards

Restorative Justice and Peer Mediation: Avenues For Change

I have the honor of collaborating with Kathy Lebrón on this post.  We saw a need to address how the system disproportionately disciplines and criminalizes students of color.  We wanted to get people thinking about positive alternatives to the traditional forms of behavior management systems and chose to focus on restorative justice and peer mediation as avenues for change.  

Behavior and the process to discipline students based on behavior has been a major topic in the educational community.  Various forms of intervention have been implemented through schools across the United States.  The majority of these methods involve some form of a tiered system, where consequences layer based upon the severity and frequency of student actions.  Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS) systems offer different strategies, most including a point system where students gain or lose points based on behavior.  These types of systems usually involve a punishment and reward system for behaviors, rather than immediately addressing the root causes of the behaviors and restoring peace within the community.  Restorative Justice provides a positive alternative to these traditional PBIS systems.

Restorative Justice gained popularity in the 1970’s with the introduction of victim-offender mediation programs; however, ancient societies have always used various forms of mediation to address conflict, restore relationships, and build community.  Indigenous cultures have generations of experience utilizing restorative practices to mend relationships and repair harm that has occurred within their communities.  Restorative Practices are now slowly becoming an integral part of creating healthy, peaceful communities and justice systems.

Differences between Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice

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Restorative Practices is the umbrella term for a philosophy that views relationships as an integral component to fostering positive and healthy learning environments. Unlike traditional “zero-tolerance” school policies that often target disenfranchised populations, Restorative Practices enable people to restore relationships, resolve conflicts and build community in proactive and positive ways. These practices have roots in Restorative Justice. Restorative Justice is an approach that focuses on repairing relationships and the harm done to people versus simply punishing offenders. This approach is influenced by ancient and indigenous practices performed in cultures worldwide.

Restorative Practices involve interventions when harm has happened, as well as practices that help to prevent harm and conflict by creating a sense of belonging, safety, and social responsibility within the school community. They also involve “making it right” when a “harm” has occurred.

A relationship cannot be restored if it doesn’t exist.
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Relationships are important. When an incident occurs, the focus is on the harm caused to the relationship and how to repair said relationship; rather than what rule has been broken and what consequences will be imposed. We use Restorative Justice to respond to harm that someone has caused and to find ways to repair that harm so that healing and change can take place.

If you would like to visually represent Restorative Practices in your classroom, be sure to check out these FREE posters, which was an initiative spearheaded by Project NIA.

Peace Circles

Peace circles, or Restorative Justice circles, can serve many functions and they can be used proactively as well as a means for intervention. When used proactively, circles can help people develop and build relationships. When used as an intervention method, they can help respond to conflicts and wrongdoings. The circle process allows people to share their stories, their perspectives and makes them feel they have an equal say. Circles are a way of bringing people together in which: everyone is respected, everyone gets a chance to talk without interruption, participants explain themselves by telling their stories and everyone is equal – no person is more important than anyone else. Thus, Restorative Circles are excellent practice in shifting the needle toward a POWER WITH instead of a POWER OVER approach. Sharing power creates a win-win situation for members of the circle and allows students to feel empowered.

Typically, circles follow a given structure and contain the following elements:

  • Keeper: a neutral facilitator who “keeps” the circle going (i.e. the teacher)
  • Talking Piece: an object that people pass around and it signals it’s only their turn to share (can be anything from a ball, a keychain, a toy microphone, etc.)
  • Values: identified by everyone in the circle in order to create a respectful atmosphere
  • Guidelines: generating guidelines based on shared values
  • Ceremony: tradition to open the circle
  • Stages: 1) Specific intentions, 2) Intended Outcomes, 3) Activities/Guiding Questions, 4) Keeper techniques
  • Consensus: get everyone to offer their perspective
  • Storytelling: circle participants share their stories and lived experiences as well as reflect on the present
  • Closing ceremony: tradition to close the circle

Sticking to these elements is imperative to preserving the integrity and intentionality of a circle. You can see these elements at play in this video about Restorative Justice in Oakland Schools.

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Peace/Restorative Circles can be used for a myriad of situations, including: teaching curriculum, developing shared agreements for classroom behaviors, checking in/out, solving classroom problems, healing from loss, discussing/solving conflict and problems, etc.. When using circles proactively and to prevent harm, you can build relationships with students in positive and meaningful ways. You can find 48 circle prompts in this resource that I, The Radical Maestra, created to get to know your students better and vice-versa. It can also help to proactively guide discussions with students around relationship-building, values, identity and curriculum.

Peer Mediation

Peer mediation is a restorative practice that provides an opportunity for student accountability.  An entire school community gains value in learning how to mediate situations between peers.  Peer mediation is a six step process that consists of:

  1. Agree to Mediate: there must be consent from all parties involved, including the mediator, to mediate the conflict

  2. Gathering Points of View: mediators must allow all individuals the opportunity to tell their story, while identifying and understanding the multiple perspectives being discussed

  3. Focus on Needs and Interests: Mediators must center the focus of the conversation on what the involved parties need to resolve the conflict

  4. Create Win-Win Solutions: Focus on creating resolutions that are specific, balanced, reasonable, and thoroughly solve the problem

  5. Evaluate Options: Consider the various solutions and determine the solution that best solves the problem

  6. Create and Sign An Agreement: The involved parties collectively write out the established agreement and sign the agreement.

Individuals can alternate between the role of peer mediator to ensure that all parties have the opportunity to actively participate in this restorative practice.  Teaching all individuals to be peer mediators and allowing this participation can help create an environment where students are empowered to manage and have autonomy over their own and their peers actions.  For more information about how to implement peer mediation as a restorative practice, download the free conflict resolution and peer mediation toolkit from IREX here.  

It is our hope that you reflect on your current behavior management and disciplinarian practices as well as the potential impacts they have on students, especially students of color. How can you implement more collaborative, student-centered, and POWER WITH approaches in your classroom and school to resolve and repair conflicts and harm?


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Institute for Restorative Initiatives, Center for Restorative Justice, dept_crj@suffolk.edu

Circle Forward: Building a Restorative School Community. Boyes-Watson & Pranis. Living Justice Press. 2015. Cambridge, MA.

Restorative Justice Pocketbook. Thorsborne & Vinegrad. 2009.

Conferencing Handbook. The New Real Justice Training Manual. O’Connell and Wachtel. Real Justice. 1999.

Johnson, D. W. and Johnson, R. T. (2012). Restorative justice in the classroom: Necessary roles of cooperative context, constructive conflict, and civic Values. Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, 5: 4–28


5 Effective Strategies to Get the MOST Out of Class Time

It is a tale as old as time.  You write the perfect lesson, make the necessary copies, prepare for a good class and things go awry.  You fail to have enough time to finish the lesson.  You are rushing to cover all of the content you had prepared and get caught up having to do basic logistical things like assigning homework, collecting homework, and ensuring students are prepared to start the lesson. 

What if I told you there is a way to ensure that time is not wasted and you can effectively ensure students handle logistical things prior to the lesson beginning? 

1. Take 5 

A lot of the distractions and disruptive behaviors that occur in class happen within the first five minutes of class.  I have introduced Take 5 into my classroom to curb those distractions.  Every day, there is a list of items for students to complete at the beginning of class within 5 minutes.  The goal is to ensure that students have handled all logistical things and are ready to sit down and begin the lesson when the five minutes has ended.  It also helps to ensure students are being proactive in the assigned tasks, rather than chatting or waiting until the last minute to submit homework, sharpen pencils, etc.  The Take 5 list should always include: sharpening pencils, turning in homework, and gathering any papers/binders needed to start the lesson.   It is also important to ensure students write down the homework for the day.  They are writing it down with the intent for you to complete the lesson for the day. 

Example of what Take 5 looks like in my classroom

Example of what Take 5 looks like in my classroom

2. Agenda

This item may seem obvious, but I have been into countless classrooms that have no agenda posted.  There is a spot on my board for the agenda each day because I teach Geometry all day long.  If you teach multiple different classes a day, you can easily add different agendas to powerpoint presentations that are posted with the Take 5 at the beginning of class.  A daily agenda has many benefits. It allows students to know the schedule for the class, which eliminates questions like "What are we doing today?" It also teaches students time management because it forces the teacher to adhere to the designated times for each component of the lesson for the day.  It is important to review the agenda (after reviewing your daily objective) so that students have an idea of what to expect during class.  When you are writing your agenda, you should make sure to break down each component of class into small chunks of time (no more than 20 minutes).  Students can be easily distracted in class because they feel as if the class is dragging along with no end in sight.  Breaking down your lesson into smaller chunks of time helps give the illusion that we are moving through the lesson at a fairly quick pace.  

The daily agenda should have times listed in minutes

The daily agenda should have times listed in minutes

3. Timer

In order to ensure you are keeping track of time on your agenda, get a timer! My Time Timer was one of the best investments I could have ever made.  A timer helps to keep you on task, but it also allows students to know how much time they are allotted before moving on to the next activity.  A timer helps teach time management.  When I added a timer to my classroom (in addition to my agenda) it helped cut down wasted time and I was able to complete some of the times on my agenda before the time was up.  This allotted me more time for student questions or discussion.  

The Time Timer in my classroom.  Order your own Time Timer  here !

The Time Timer in my classroom.  Order your own Time Timer here!

4. Homework Folders/Bin

Always have a place where students can easily turn in their homework each day.  Students should not have to guess where it must be submitted.  A homework bin/folder during Take 5 helps prevent any loss of class time.  Students are responsible for turning in their work in the first five minutes of class.  To help distinguish between my different periods, I have my folders color coded. Students know which folder to put their homework in based on the color and label. 

Order your own hanging file folders here!

Order your own hanging file folders here!

5. What Did I Miss? Binder 2.0

When I first came across the "What Did I Miss" binder, I thought it was the perfect way to ensure students obtain any missing homework or worksheets needed when absent.  I noticed the issue of students obtaining missing homework, but needing to get the notes from the lesson from their peers.  I decided to add another component to the binder.  For every lesson, I attach a copy of my handwritten notes for the day.  Students who are absent are allowed to take those notes and copy them down on their own and put them back into the binder.  This saves the headache of students have to borrow notes from another student who may need them for the current lesson.  It also eliminates students asking for any missed work or notes when they immediately know to check the binder.