Saturday, December 8, 2012

Math Bully

During the first week of October (Oct. 1 - 5, 2012), New Jersey held its second annual "Week of Respect" which was created as part of the state's anti-bullying law. During the week of respect, we are asked to include something in our lesson plans that reinforces the importance of treating all people with respect. I was thinking about respect and the importance of respect in the math classroom and I realized that the kind of bullying that I usually see in a math classroom is students laughing when other  people make mistakes. I think it is very important that my students feel safe in my classroom and know that if they make a mistake that they will not be ridiculed. So for my lesson on respect I decided to talk about "math bullying." I start out the lesson by asking my students what they think a "math bully" is and that usually elicits some interesting comments. My definition of a "math bully" is something who laughs or ridicules another person when they make a mistake. Then I share with them some quotes that I found on the importance of making mistakes in the learning process.

Making mistakes simply means you are learning faster.
   --West H. Agor

Constant effort and frequent mistakes are the stepping stones of genius.
  --Elbert Hubbard

Mistakes are the portals of discovery.
--James Joyce

The many who achieves makes many mistakes, but he never makes the biggest mistake of all - doing nothing.
--Benjamin Franklin

Never say, "Oops." Always say "Ah, interesting."
--Author Unknown

It's okay to make mistakes. Mistakes are our teacher - they help us to learn.
--John Bradshaw

I have not failed. I've just found ten thousand ways that won't work.
--Thomas Edison

After we read the quotes together I shared this Respect Pledge:

And then I invited all the students to cut out a geometric shape and write their name on the shape and add it to the Respect Pledge classroom mural at the back of the room. I like the fact that this activity gives us a chance to do a quick review of some geometry vocabulary while at the same time it illustrates that we are all different and unique and we come in all shapes, sizes and colors.


  1. I like how you thoughtfully incorporated the issue of bullying into your class. And the quotes are great--I want to post them where I can see them often. I wonder why most of us are afraid to make mistakes when they truly are an indication that we are trying and growing.

    1. Last year, when I did this activity, I asked my students to pick their favorite quote and write it in their math journal. Maybe next year I will have them pick their favorite quote, write it on their shape, and then give it back to them when I take down the classroom mural and have them tape it inside the front cover of their math journal.

  2. What a great idea to apply the concept specifically to math and match the connection with the final product (pun cute, yet unintentional). It's too bad you didn't get a photo of the whole display. It's a great testament to the community spirit.

    Also, I suspect that there is some math bullying that happens the other direction as well. The kid who is considered a nerd or who always knows the answer can feel negative social pressure too. I find that destructive in my classroom, when it rears its head. I encourage students to challenge themselves to "beat" them at their own game. A healthy competition of wits, if you will. I found negative attitudes towards being smart far more common in schools with high poverty rates. (I think it was more of a defense mechanism than anything.)

    1. Just added a photo of the final product:)