By Derek Pipkorn

Well, summer has officially come to an end and the kids are heading back to school! It’s an exciting and anxious time for parents and children alike. Some students have spent time with supplemental programs or tutors over the summer, but many have not thought about school since June.

Now with the summer over, students need to get back into the study groove and focus on starting the school year on the right foot. I have provided four ways a student can stay strong during these first few weeks, especially in math.

1. Stay Organized

As teachers, we love the start of the school year when our students have all their supplies. The organization system that’s in place at your school, which probably includes a binder or folder, is typically neat and orderly. Unfortunately, after a few weeks (or a few days for some), the organization starts to go downhill. Students might lose their homework, misplace their math test in their reading folder, or even forget their binder at home. That’s why staying on top of the organization each night is important. Look through the materials with your student and help them stay organized. This way they won’t be scrambling for five minutes to find their math homework at school, instead it will be at the top of the stack ready to be checked when they walk into class.

2. Practice, practice, practice

I often refer to math students as Mathletes due to the significance of practice in learning. Whenever I talk with my students about this important habit, I like to ask them if they ever see Aaron Rodgers or Ryan Braun just sitting on the sidelines, waiting to get better. Of course these professional players don’t because they want to be the best they can be. Similar to these athletes’ goals of physical agility and development, intellectual development takes time and consistent practice. It is important that students practice their math skills nearly every day in order to strengthen their foundational understanding and demonstrate their mastery at the most necessary times.

3. Make mistakes and ask questions

In 2014, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) released a publication entitled Principles to Actions, which connected research with best teaching practices that are essential for high-quality math education. Now this can be applied to any subject, but NCTM asserts two ideas that students must be doing to be successful in math (NCTM, p. 52).

• Struggling at times with mathematics tasks but knowing that breakthroughs often emerge from confusion and struggle
• Asking questions that are related to the sources of their struggles will help them make progress in understanding and solving tasks

It might seem counterintuitive to encourage our students to make mistakes, but what we are really saying to them is that it’s important to embrace struggle as a natural aspect of learning. At the same time, encourage your student to ask questions and
understand that it’s acceptable to say “I don’t know how to proceed here”, but it’s not acceptable to give up.

4. Keep a Growth Mindset

If you haven’t heard about growth mindset vs fixed mindset, take some time to read Mindset by Carol Dweck or my favorite, What’s Math Got To Do With It by Jo Boaler. Both of these authors will help you and your student understand the importance of being challenged, persevering through it, and keeping a good attitude in the process. Boaler’s work truly focuses on helping us all understand that we can all be “math people” and how that mindset is so powerful in finding success in mathematics. A new school year always presents new challenges. Keep a growth mindset with your student to empower them throughout the year.

DEREK PIPKORN has been a math teacher and middle school math specialist for 8 years. He has been involved in math education on a state and national level, most recently serving on the Board of Directors for the Wisconsin Math Council.
Derek lives in Wauwatosa and is the Owner/Center Director of Mathnasium of Wauwatosa, a math-only learning center for
students in 2nd through 12th grade, which will open their doors this fall!

For more info, follow @MathnasiumTosa on Twitter or on Facebook (Mathnasium of Wauwatosa).