The early weeks of the school year are pivotal for shaping how students perceive themselves as math learners. Thomas Guskey, in a recent post, highlighted that this period is crucial for students to form their beliefs about their capabilities. Without careful guidance, some students might prematurely label themselves as “C students” based on their first experiences with assessments, which can have lasting effects throughout the year. Jo Boaler also stresses the importance of starting strong by building a mathematics learning community and encouraging persistence.

Creating a positive mathematical identity and fostering agency during this time can set students on a path to success. Magma Math offers tools to support this process, helping students engage in math without fear of failure and building their confidence from the start. As the school year begins, it's important to focus on a few **key areas to help students build positive mathematical identities: **

- Using differentiated assignments
- Leveraging Optimized Formative Assessment
- “Show Your Work” Exercises
- Studying Student Solutions
- Facilitating Math Discourse

To support students in feeling confident and successful, consider creating Check Your Understanding assignments with mild, medium, and spicy problems.

Allow students to choose where they want to start and how many problems they work through within the allotted time. These assignments should not be graded, but rather serve as a low-pressure opportunity to engage with math. This strategy, borrowed from the Building Thinking Classrooms approach, gives students autonomy and helps nourish their mathematical identities by supporting them through varying levels of challenge.

Magma Math allows teachers to customize assignments, enabling this differentiation seamlessly. By offering choice and encouraging self-direction, students build agency, confidence, and a stronger connection to math.

Many teachers begin the year with a pre-test to assess where students are academically, but this can unintentionally lead students to believe they are not "good at math." Instead, consider using Magma Math’s built-in formative assessment tools to gather insights into students’ understanding without labeling or grading them early in the year. Every interaction in the platform provides valuable data on what students know, giving teachers the flexibility to adjust instruction without the need for traditional, high-stakes pre-testing.

Helping students show their thinking is critical for building both confidence and mathematical identity. In a Magma Math classroom, students’ work becomes the center of discussion and collaborative learning (click here to read more on centering student thinking in the classroom). One of the most effective strategies is to display a range of student solutions, from the most concrete to the most abstract, making connections between different approaches. This gives all students access to mathematics while celebrating their contributions.

Using Magma Math, teachers can easily pin student solutions and highlight a progression of strategies. This not only helps students see the value in their own thinking but also strengthens their understanding of math concepts by seeing how others solve the same problem.

Another way to engage students and deepen their understanding is by comparing and contrasting different solution strategies. Using the Same But Different routine, teachers can lead discussions that highlight important mathematical ideas through student work. Asking how solutions are the same and how they differ encourages critical thinking and allows students to explore multiple paths to the same answer.

Meaningful math discourse is crucial for developing students' mathematical identity and agency. Often, students don’t truly listen to each other during discussions; instead, they wait for their chance to speak. Instructional routines with specific talk moves can shift this dynamic. For example, when facilitating a discussion, ask students to restate a peer's idea before sharing their own. This can sound like: "I heard Cleo say..." or "I agree with Rom’s idea because...". Repeating and reflecting on each other’s thinking encourages deeper understanding and builds a sense of community in the classroom.

Magma Math makes it easier to share and discuss student work, supporting the flow of productive math discussions and helping students become active participants in their own learning.

The beginning of the school year is a unique opportunity to shape students’ mathematical identities and foster a sense of agency. Through differentiated assignments, meaningful discourse, and a growth mindset supported by Magma Math, students can build confidence and develop persistence. With these strategies, students are set on a path to success, not just for the year, but for their long-term engagement with math.

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