Friday, April 15, 2016

What's the purpose of warm-ups?

By: Rachel Barry

I start off class everyday with a warm-up.  The only exception to this is a day we have an assessment that may take the whole class period.  Many days I hear groans from students, complaining when I ask them to begin the designated warm-up for the day.

This year, I have a student who is very vocal about the dislike of a warm-up.  She eventually started asking why she has to do a warm-up if she's doing all the necessary work for the course.  The best line she said to me was "Why do I need to do this, if it's not going in the gradebook?"

Ah ha!  This hit a nerve with me.  In big picture terms, I am working to transition my students away from grades-based learning into mastery learning.  This comment felt like a giant leap back for me, but this idea is a whole other blog post in itself.  In small picture terms, I realized that I hadn't provided my students with the proper reasoning of why I ask them to complete a warm-up every day, and how my explanation of this could really change their attitudes while working on a warm-up.

In response to this student, I used an analogy.  Ironically, I had this student on the cross-country team that I help coach in the fall.  I asked her, "Would I have you run a race without ever having practiced before?"  She responded, "No."  Then, I asked her, "Would you race well without a warm-up run, some movement stretches, and loosening up your muscles and joints?" to which she responded ,"No", again.  At this point, she started to see my point.  I discussed with my students how my class mimics most of the activities they enjoy (sports, band, choir, dance, etc), and how it wouldn't be fair to me to expect them to jump right into content without pulling in prior knowledge.  Since the discussion, it seems that there is more "buy-in" during warm-up time with my students.

To fellow teachers and administrators, I have a bit more to elaborate on my reasoning for warm-ups (besides that this has been said to be "best practice", and I was told to in my first year of teaching...).  The truth is, the warm-up determines my instructional practices for the day.  This is especially important since I have switched to an individualized curriculum.  Students are working at different paces and subsequently on different math problems, so warm-ups provide a formative check for me to know who I need to spend more time with that day.  This then drives the purpose for the class: whether I need to address common mistakes with the class as a whole, if I need to touch base with students in small groups, or maybe I will be working with students on a more 1-on-1 basis.

Another great aspect of warm-ups are that they allow for students to "settle into class".  This provides students with the time necessary to change gears from their prior classs, ease their mind of what may have occurred during the passing period or the night before, and get ready to learn some math!

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