Spoiler Alert: Small incremental gains might just change the world of math

Feb 15, 2022

My husband and I were watching “This Is Us.” Remember the episode where Randal and Beth are playing “Worst Case Scenario” in preparation for dinner with Deja and  Malik. They are preparing their minds for the possible news that Deja and Malik want to tell them. Do you play “Worst Case Scenario”? Dreaming the worst possible thing that could happen, focusing on the negative stuff. Starting from perfection then subtracting – always focusing on how much less than

  • Instead of celebrating the 75% percent of students who mastered, we focus on the 25% who didn’t.
  • Instead of focusing on the 15% increase in scores, we focus on a 35% gap in learning.
  • Instead of celebrating students talking more and being more engaged, we focus on the tasks we still need to do: the papers to grade, the lesson plans to write, the hours left in the day.


Let’s try a new game instead. It’s called the “0% Game”!

We start from 0%, then ADD.

For example, let’s imagine:  

  • What does 0% of students completing and using their Interactive Notebook look like?
  • What does 0% of students knowing math vocabulary look like?
  • What does 0% of students remembering what you taught look like?

Now focus on where are you and your students? What is your current state?

  • What percent of students complete and effectively use their Interactive Notebooks?
  • What percent of you students remember math terms and use them?
  • What percent of your students remember what is taught for longer than a few days?

Now let’s keep playing the game!

Think about what would help your students get 1% better (or 5%).

What would move them just a little bit forward today?

If you have been following me long, you know I love the story about David Brailsford and the British Cycling Team. You can email me for the story if you haven’t heard it. Or click here. 

You may not be competing in the Tour de France or the Olympics, but incremental gains will lead to immense gains. Research shows that just 1% change over the year leads to 37% growth. Wowza!

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Here are 3 Top Tips to go from 0% to PROGRESS!

Flip the Pages: To help students build memory skills & retention
and to extend their thinking and correct misconceptions.


  1. You or a student will randomly flip open your interactive notebook
  2. Tell the class the concept that you or your student opened
  3. Using their pencils, have students write on their graphic organizer what they remember about the concept
  4. Next, with a different colored pencil, have the students work in partners to see how many words, concepts, ideas they can add to their organizer about this concept, word, or phrase (I have the students use a different color for each step so I can visually see what they are adding on during each step
  5. Then you can have students open their interactive notebook and record in a third color any missing information or misconceptions they need to correct
  6. Lastly, discuss as a class, in partners or groups, what students learned, remembered, or discovered

Tips for Using Flip the Pages:

  • You can strategically select an upcoming unit to assess what students recall about the concept using the math book. This will help you access their prior knowledge.
  • Use when you are reviewing for an upcoming test, and you would like to informally assess where you need to spend a little more time focusing.
  • Use when you are unsure what they remembered from a difficult lesson and want to clarify some misconceptions.
  • Just to keep it real – use it when you need a quick strategy because nothing is going as planned.


Dance, Songs, and Movement using song and dance moves help students learn vocabulary, steps in a process, or learn a concept.


  • Students will talk more when walking than seated
  • Decrease restlessness
  • Increase memory


Add dance moves from different cultures or video games.

Stand for IT

  • Read statements if the statement is True students stand. If the statement is false, students sit down. You can change up the movements, like taking a step to the right if the statement is true and to the left if it is false. Raise your fist if the statement is true, and raise on open palm if it is false.
  • Students not remembering their multiplication facts. Have students skip count while moving their hands, feet, etc.


2 Step Dance Your students’ working memory is limited. Therefore, it is important to strategically organize both content and instruction to help them retain the necessary knowledge and skills from which to build additional learning.

Step 1 of the Dance

  • Break your lesson into meaningful chunks of no more than 15- 20 minutes.
  • The 2-Step Dance works even better if you can chunk the lesson into smaller increments of time.
  • Change the way the individual is dealing with the information 2 Step Dance (see next page for examples)
    • Listening
    • Talking
    • Physically Moving
    • Manipulatives
    • Make connections

Step 2 of the Dance

  • Close each chunk of instruction with a task that will help the students process, summarize and/or compartmentalize how the task contributes to the overall objective of the lesson.
  • Move to the next chunk.


After implementing some of these strategies, Amelia said during one of our debrief coaching sessions. “My students love using the movement to learn math terms. They remember so much more. They think they are doing a TikTok dance. Michelle, thanks so much for helping me teach my students so they learn the content and enjoy math.”

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