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Diana Rapp

Diana Rapp

High School Math Teacher & Woot Tutor

5 Simple Things to Start Your Year Off Right

As a high-school math teacher, these are the things I wish I could tell every student. They are not earth-scattering ideas, but they are proven ways to start your year off right. In fact, these are the tips that I wish someone had told me when I was in high school.
Growing Plant

Fresh Start!

Think of this year as a fresh start in math class. Regardless of your affinity towards math, a fresh start is exciting for everyone. New teacher, new classroom and new materials. This could be the year that math becomes your favorite subject. This is your chance to embrace a growth mindset. A growth mindset is the belief that your abilities and intelligence can be developed through hard work and dedication. Research shows that people with a growth mindset achieve more than people with a fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are something they are born with). With a growth mindset, you know that you can always improve your skills with hard work, which in turn leads to greater growth, which ultimately leads to your success. Powerful stuff, no?

These are the tips that I wish someone had told me when I was in high school.

pencil and notebook

Hey can I borrow a pencil?

Everyone knows those few students who never have a pencil. And to be fair, most of us have at one time or another been that student. This year, plan to arrive to your math class prepared so you aren’t fumbling and searching for a pencil for the first fifteen minutes. Having the right supplies means you are ready to learn and focus on the class – on learning. Also, make sure you have clean pieces of paper and erasers. Seriously. These little things matter and often make the difference from a stressful class to a successful class.

Set Goals

I believe in the power of goal setting. For everyone. At the beginning of the year, I set goals for myself. Start by thinking about your last experience in math class. What worked for you? Even more, what didn’t work? Take those ideas and try to turn them into goals. With goal setting it is important to be specific. For example, “Study More” is a loose and meaningless goal. Try this instead, “Twice a week I will go over my notes and organize my binder” or “Once a week, I will go to office hours to ask my teacher questions.” The more specific the goal, the easier it will be to stick to it.

Mrs. Who? Mr. What?

Knowing your teacher is essential for your success. Your teacher is your go-to person for math help. Take some time to introduce yourself to your teacher and make it a point to go to a few offices hours the first month of school. Your teacher will take note and admire your commitment to the class so early on in the semester. Have you noticed that before big tests office hours are crowded, but at other times they are free? Those free hours are the best time to get real one-on-one help from your teacher. I have seen first hand the dramatic success that students can have when they make the time to come in and work with me during office hours. Also, nowadays many teachers have a website that they update frequently. Often this is where you can find assignments, schedules, and sometimes even notes from class. At the beginning of year, bookmark your teachers’ website so you can access it easily and regularly.
Group of People

Find Allies

Math class can be hard sometimes, which is why I recommend that you seek out your classroom allies early on. Try to connect with a few students in your class – what I call allies. Even if it feels hard or scary to build these connections, it can be a lifeline when you are struggling. Imagine you are out of class for several days with the flu or a cold. This is when your allies (and of course your teacher!) are there to help you get back on your feet. With your allies, you can form study groups, reachout for homework help, and share class notes. I know it sounds funny to actively think about building class allies, but the more people you have to lean on – the more people that have your back – the more likely you are to succeed.

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