Survivor Algebra My First Day Success Speech

The official speech will be in black and my side comments to you will be in red.

When they come into the classroom on the first day of school, I have this written down on the board (or overhead):

Take out a piece of paper and write down your dream.


What do you want to be?  Do you want to have a nice house someday?  Picture it and write it down. 

Tell them that you won't be collecting it -- that's it's just for them.  Have them close their eyes and just picture the dream for a couple of minutes.  (I also tell them, that, if they don't have a dream, they can just copy their neighbor's!)  This puts them in the right frame of mind.  The first day, we don't want them thinking about math (or the associated stress), we want them thinking about success.

Let them know that you won't be doing any math the first day, so they can all relax!

How many of you want to be successful? 

Of course, most will raise their hands.   Tell them you want them to write out a list of things.  You want them to have this list right in the front of where all their class notes will be so they see it all the time.

Highly successful people have 6 things:    

  • Creativity (Of course, give them a second to write headers down.  I always elaborate with some examples on these.  I'm sure you'll have your own examples.)

Creativity isn't just for the arts… In business, engineering, science, medicine, those at the top are creative.  They think outside the box and do new things.  Donald Trump even wrote a book called "The Art of the Deal."

  •  The ability to think and figure things out

Thinking and figuring things out isn't just for science…  Creating a dance routine requires planning and thinking.  Writing requires planning and thinking ahead.     

  • The ability to self-teach
    When you're close to the top or at the top of your profession, there's no longer anyone around to teach you what you need to know next  Those who make it to the top and stay there are the ones who figure out what they need to learn next and learn it on their own.  This is especially true for someone setting out to create something that's never been done before!     
  • A positive attitude
    Bloom where you are planted.
    (Most kids have never heard this quote before!  You may want to explain it a bit.)
    I'm sure that this class isn't where you want to be or what you want to be doing with your time…  But, there comes a time in life when you have to decide what kind of person you are going to be – Are you the type to gripe and complain the whole time?  Or are you the type to make the best of the situation and find a way to use it to your benefit?
    When life gives you lemons, make lemonade – and sell it!     
  • Confidence
    Some people just naturally have this, but most of us need to build it… And we build it through hard work, accomplishments and conquering fears.      
  • Drive
    Successful people know what they want, set their goals and aim high…  They want it badly and work very hard to get it!

(This is my college speech, so you may want to rephrase the "majoring in" stuff below.) 

How many of you are majoring in science or engineering?

In the real world, you're going to need about 25% of what we're going to
do in this class. 
(Really, a huge chunk of the math we teach is artificial textbook math -- like factoring.  Factoring is NEVER used in the real world.)  Of course, you'll need ALL of it to survive all the other math classes you'll be taking.

 How many of you are business majors?

Can you add and subtract?  Can you work with decimals and percents? 
Then you're good to go!  You already have what you need in the way of math for business.  Again, you'll need ALL this stuff for your next math classes.

 How many of you are going to be elementary school teachers?

You need all of this.  Not that you'll be using it, but you need to know
where your kids are headed math-wise so you can prepare them properly.

 How many of you are majoring in something else?

 You're not going to need any of the math we'll be doing this semester...  Except for compound interest where you'll learn how your money can grow!  Yes, it’s very true that math is THE language of science and money…  But, I know that lots of you won’t be doing these things.  (Students are very wise to the fact that most of them really won’t ever use this stuff… and that’s it’s usually our game to make them believe otherwise.  I’ve found that they really do better knowing the truth on this.)

 So, where does this put us?  Why are we even here?

It's not about the math.  (Make them write these three sentences down.) This is NOT a math class!  (Write that down!)  This is a class in success training. 

I'm going to teach you how to be successful.  You're going to learn how to be creative, how to think and figure things out and how to self-teach (this is the most important one).  You are going to build confidence because you ARE going to conquer this class.  It just so happens that the subject I'm going to use to teach you these things is Algebra.

 The positive attitude and the drive are up to you.  These are things that have to come from deep inside YOU!  These are your decisions…  All you have to do is to decide to have them and they are yours… and no one can take them away!

 How many of you think you are bad in math? (About 80% of my students raise their hands on this one!)

 NO!!  That's not right!  You're NOT bad in math -- You just had bad experiences with math in the past.  It's doesn't mean you can't do it.  It doesn't mean that you aren't good at it!  (Write this down:  It's not that I'm bad in math, it's just that I've had bad experiences with math!)

  • Albert Einstein was four years old before he could speak and seven before he could read.
  • As a boy Thomas Edison was told by his teachers that he was too stupid to learn anything.
  • Werner von Braun flunked ninth-grade algebra.  (One of our most important rocket developers from 1930-1970.)
  • Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade.
  • Leo Tolstoy flunked out of college.  (War and Peace)
  • Louis Pasteur was rated mediocre in chemistry when he attended the Royal College.  (He later discovered that “germs” cause disease -- got hospitals to become sanitary, invented the pasteurization of milk and cured rabies.)
  • Paul Orfalea, the founder of Kinko's, failed the 2nd grade twice and was actually labeled as “retarded.”
  • Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because he had "no good ideas."  (Yeah, Disneyland and cartoons were really bad ideas.)
  • Me -- Karen, the creator of, (Yeah, not like I'm putting myself in the same list as some of those guys above!) had to take prealgebra THREE times (7th, 8th and 9th grade) and barely squeaked out a C in Algebra in the 10th grade.  Now, I run one of the biggest educational websites in the world that teaches math to over 150,000 kids a day!

Success is a series of walls that you'll need to climb.  Some are higher than others.  Each of the math classes you need to take is a wall to climb… and these are going to be higher for some of you than for others.

 As you climb these walls, there are going to be people on the ground below you:

  • One type will be pushing your caboose up that wall
  • The other type will be throwing rocks at you, trying to knock you down

There will be the people next to you who are also trying to climb the wall…  These are your fellow students…  They are there to encourage you...  Hey, put your foot there, this is the best way up!

There are two types of people standing on the top of the wall:

  • One type steps on your fingers when you finally get your hand at the top…
  • I'm (that's YOU) at the top of the wall and I'm the other type – I'm reaching my hand down to pull you up!

It's your job in life to let the rocks from below bounce off of you, encourage the climber next to you and climb toward the right person at the top.

Each wall you make it over will strengthen you and the next wall will be that much easier to climb.

Now, how many of you are going to be successful in this class?