Fitness experts say that any good physical workout should start with a warm-up and end with a cool-down. My question is should a mental workout be any different?
When a student walks into a math class, chances are their brains are not primed for an enduring mental challenge. They are thinking about the Language Arts project that was just assigned to them or the fight they had with their best friend during lunch. If you don’t have their whole focus, that math workout may have very little impact – or no impact – on them at all. Therefore, a math warm-up is as crucial as the lesson itself to prime the students’ brains and get them ready to go!
Think of the warm-up like a nice stretch – it shouldn’t be difficult and not too long. The warm-up can be a spiral review of a concept taught earlier in the school year or based off a lesson from earlier in the week. The point of a warm-up isn’t to over-extend the use of the brain; rather, its purpose is to make the brain in-tune with the learning environment. At the end of the five-minute exercise, the student’s focus is on the upcoming lesson.
A cool-down at the end of class is treated in a similar way. The purpose of a cool-down is to review the lesson. To do this, give students approximately five minutes to recap the lesson in their own words, list one or two things they learned during class, or to write down questions they still have about the concept. This requires students to self-reflect and check for their own understanding. Then, if time allows, the class can share their cool-downs (I urge you to make time in your class to do this at least a couple times a week…you may be surprised what students share!).
I suggest that your students keep a Warm Up/Cool Down notebook with them in addition to any other math notebooks you require for your class. One day’s notes should easily fit on one page (or half page). If a student completes their warm-up quickly, he/she can look back to the previous day’s cool-down to recall the information they learned, or to go over any questions they had.
In the beginning of the school year, you may choose to model the warm-up/cool-down so students are aware of your expectations. Remember, the warm-up/cool-down should not be grueling or tiring. The sole purpose is to prime your students for the real workout: learning!