First Day with Make It Stick, Jo Boaler, and Plickers

I want students to be less stressed before math tests.  I do not want them cramming the day before, asking me how to do every review problem because they have already forgotten, then asking me for more review problems to work.  I want students to connect the ideas not only of the current unit, but of the previous math ideas that are also incorporated into the current material.  I would love if students saw math as connected ideas, rather than “a long list of procedures” to be memorized.  I want students to learn conceptually, not procedurally.

This is tough to accomplish, as many of their math classes have been taught procedurally.  I used to think that they would be so happy to have me as their teacher!  I throw the rules of math class out of the window, and help them discover concepts on their own!  However, I found last year that this was not the case with many of my students.  Many were uncomfortable with the fact that I was disrupting their flow.  These honors math students have been successful for many, many years learning the formulas and practicing, practicing, practicing until it was perfect.  And their grade was perfect.  They didn’t want to struggle to “discover the formula”.  Struggling and not knowing make them feel insecure.  Instead, they wanted the formula right away – so they could have more time to learn it, practice it, and get a jump start on tonight’s homework!  They did not want me wasting their time.  I kept telling them this was not the best way, but they did not believe me.  So instead of telling them this year, I am going to have them read the research for themselves.

For the first day this year, the students will enter the room and then write their thoughts to these questions. (questions are a work in progress)

  1. What is math?
  2. Finish these sentences:
    1. The people that are the best math students….
    2. The best way to learn a new math concept is to…
  3. How do you study for a math test?

I will then give them a Plickers survey to find out their thoughts on math as a class. I use Plickers the first day because a few students will not have their technology ready. Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 8.46.54 AM

We will briefly discuss their answers and then I am going to show them this four minute video by Jo Boaler.

Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 8.47.21 AM

I need to ask them to write after seeing this video.  I’m still working on that and would love any thoughts or suggestions.

For homework, I am going to have them read excerpts from Make It Stick, The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown.

This fabulous book talks about how people learn, and what you can do to make learning stick.  It is full of real life examples and specific strategies.  The ideas and strategies are summarized in one of the last chapters of the book.  After having them write and discuss how they think they learn best, I am going to have my students read some excerpts of this chapter, then discuss it as a class.  This should benefit them not only in math class, but in most of their other classes as well.

The next day in class, students will pick out what they felt was the most important ideas from the reading and share them.  From this, they will decide on a learning goal for the year.  I then had them fill out  a Google Form to record their “one thing” they wanted to try from “Make It Stick”.


I will keep doing discovery and conceptual learning in my classes.  I am also replacing “massed practice” with interleaving practice and lagging homework this year.  I am hopeful that having knowledge about how people learn will open their minds to this new style of homework.  Winning over their mindset is half the battle!

This is all still a work in progress!  And if you want to join in on the planning, I’d love to have you!  I will also be talking about my first day plan at the Global Math Department Webinar this Tuesday evening at 9pm EST.  Please join in the conversation!  I hope to have it more polished by then, as I start school August 17th!

Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 8.47.46 AM

Julie Reulbach

The Files:

The amazing Meg Craig made a booklet foldable that is the entire activity in one!    I love collaboration!  (I pretty much copied hers for my one sheet).  🙂
Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 7.25.06 PM

20 thoughts on “First Day with Make It Stick, Jo Boaler, and Plickers

  1. You have touched on something I have run into: the students that are “good” at math (A students) have gotten good without real understanding. They don’t want to step out of their comfort zone or that will mess with the pattern you beautifully described! I think what you plan to do this year is terrific, but go ahead and expect the pushback! I got horrible parent conversations the first year I decided to teach for understanding! Now, going into a new year, I am energized because I see this way WORKING! Students aren’t just learning, they are feeling proud of what they know. Totally different!!!

    • Yes! I was new to the school last year and got push back, especially at the beginning. Towards the end it was a little better. Luckily, I will have many of my students from last year again so I feel I already have a foot in the door. I am hoping that introducing them to this research will be just what they need to go all in! Thank you for your comment! I’m in Charlotte, so we aren’t that far away. 🙂

  2. Julie, thanks so much for sharing about your year. I started at my current school 3 years ago in a very competitive Atlanta private school market. I was floored at my student’s reactions to some of my “awesome” teaching methods. My honors students especially were frustrated and wanted a solely traditional math experience. It was a year of frustration and lots of tears. I’m here to tell you – it can get better! It is definitely not easy to continue to do what we know is “right” when there is so much pushback. Best wishes for a better year for you. Also, I finally blogged about how I interleave & space practice! I thought I cc’d you in the tweet about it, but I don’t see you there. It’s here if you want to read it:

    • Thank you for commenting and including the link to your post! I love how you explain interleaving and spacing. Also, your homework assignments are exactly what I am thinking of. I feel this will help students have success with the lower level problems before tackling harder problems subsequent nights as well as keep the material fresh and hopefully connected throughout the chapter. I had not heard of 8 problems a night, but I know that Henry proposes not too much homework. It’s great to have a number to shoot for.


      • Yeah, I liked when Steve gave a number. I don’t always use strictly 8, some times it’s a couple less or a couple more, but it’s in the 6-10 ballpark and normally 8. Students like knowing I won’t give more than 10 a night.

  3. The one-sheet “Make it Stick” handout is wonderful…can you post an editable version for those of us who would like to use with out names at the top. : ) Thanks in advance.

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  5. I went whole-hog this year and did the entire Week of Inspirational Math at We have just finished the first three weeks of school and I am so glad I devoted a week to teaching kids that we are looking for patterns in math. I teach the regular math 7 students, and many of them have survived by memorizing things in math. This is the year that it all falls apart for many of them because there is just too much stuff to memorize. My only complaint about WIM is that there’s a heavy emphasis on people who think they aren’t good at math, which led several kids to ask if they were in the “dumb” class, which they’re not! Now that we’re 3 weeks in, they are looking for patterns and actively finding ways to learn things without memorizing every little thing. I hope it continues!

  6. We have a course (community college) in Math Literacy and a student came to my tutoring room in high angst because he recognized that he’d gotten accustomed to just, in his words, mimicking procedures of examples.
    He’s feeling better about the whole process, happily, and basically thinks that teaching math as something to be understood is a better idea than procedures to mimic 🙂

  7. Thank you so much for posting your resources! After hearing about Make it Stick last winter via global math department webinar (, I got right to work interleaving my problem sets.
    Then, during my summer grad school session, one of my professors used the book as a text book. I think it is awesome that it is catching on. Thank you for getting the word out and making it easier for me to share the information with students.

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  9. Just reading “Make it Stick” now as part of a PLC at school and stumbled upon this post. Now that you’ve had some time to reflect, do you think what you did the first couple of days helped set the tone for your class? Is there anything you would do differently in the future?

    • Yes! I’m so glad I did “Make It Stick” with my students to start the year. It definitely set the tone for my classes. I feel that students have bought more into my lagging homework because of this. As far as what I would do differently next year, I would love to spend more time following up on the ideas as the year progressed. We still use the strategies, but I hope they remember why.

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