George Lucas Educational Foundation
George Lucas Educational Foundation

60-Second Strategy: Heat Warm-Ups

Differentiated levels of ‘heat’ for these math worksheets mean every student starts class feeling both challenged and accomplished.

May 3, 2024

A couple of years ago, high school math teacher Jennifer Feehan taught a group of English language learners who had a wide range of math skills. Some students were catching up on their positive and negative signs, while others were ready to solve equations. To start each class, she needed an activity that would engage students at all levels. And heat warm-ups were born.

But she has a student to thank for the activity’s name. “It came about because one of my students—I was just calling them level warm-ups—he went, ‘Miss, this problem is hot peppers. They just get harder and harder and hotter and hotter like hot peppers!’”

Today, Feehan starts most classes by giving students a worksheet with at least four problems of increasing difficulty. Their level is indicated by an emoji: a fire extinguisher is the coolest, or easiest, problem, while a problem with four flames is the hardest. Students can choose where to begin, and they complete as many problems as they can within a set time period—usually 10 minutes. This approach guarantees that no student is bored, and it puts agency in the hands of the students to take on their own challenges.

An added benefit of the practice is that students often stretch themselves, because of the competition aspect. “Even my kids that were struggling,” says Feehan, “they didn’t want to feel like they were getting left out of something. It helped their confidence when they went, ‘Oh, well, I don’t have to do just the first one or the first two. I was able to do the third one!’”

Fauquier High School

Public, Suburban
Grades 9-12
Warrenton, VA

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