A middle school math teacher's quest to teach each lesson at least a little bit better than the lesson before.

Archive for August, 2013

Is math class always going to be this fun? – First Day Quote

I just finished my first week of the school year.  This was the 12th first week of my career, and I actually slept well the night before school started for the first time ever!  I’m not sure why, especially since I’m teaching a new grade level (7th), at a new school, in a new school district this year — so you’d think I would have been more anxious than usual.  Maybe I was just extra exhausted from the week leading up to the first day.

My first day actually extended over two days.  At my new school we teach on an A-day, B-day schedule, which means that I only see my students every other day, for 85 minutes per class period.  Eighty-Five Minutes!  For the first time I can remember, I’ve actually had a couple of instances this week when I’ve finished class with a few minutes to spare.  I don’t think that will happen too often. The real challenge will be adjusting my pacing to cover all of the material I need to cover in only 1/2 of the instructional days!

Having 85 minute class periods allowed me to pack in a smorgasbord of first day activities.  I started and ended the class with a name tag idea I got from @rachelrosales’s blog, Purple Pronto Pups.  I’m so glad that her school year started earlier in August and that she blogged about her awesome First Day name tags!  For several years I’ve used name tags, but these name tags have an interesting addition.  The front of the folded 8.5 x 11 card stock has the student’s name, but the back is cut into three sections.  Each day for the first three days of class, students write an “I notice” and an “I wonder” statement about me or my class.  Then I respond to every student’s noticing or wondering.  All 138 of them.  (This is one time I’m relieved to be on an A-day/B-day schedule.  I’m not sure I could handle responding to 138 students all in one day! Especially not for three days in a row.)  But I really feel like I’m already getting some great information about my students and what they value.

After the students created their name tags, I introduced myself with my Me, by the Numbers keynote.  Then I explained their homework assignment, which was their own Me, by the Numbers list.  I really enjoy reading what students have to say about themselves.  It’s a great way for me to make connections with them and to start getting to know each of them — not the easiest thing to do with so many students whom I only see once every two school days!

Then we moved on to Fawn Nguyen’s Noah’s Ark Problem.  I introduced the idea of noticing and wondering about this problem, and asked students to put the challenge into their own words.  (What *I* noticed in going through that process is that a lot of kids missed the fact that they were supposed to figure out how many seals should replace the question mark.  If I hadn’t gone through that process, I think I would have been busy explaining to nearly every group that 1 polar bear doesn’t answer the question!) The kids worked with their seating groups of 3-4 students.  I gave each group a large whiteboard, dry erase markers, and a copy of the problem put into a plastic sleeve so they could use a dry erase marker on the outside.  They were SO engaged.  They were SO challenged.  They were SO disappointed to not have an answer by the time class was over.  It is SO awesome when students don’t want to stop working on a problem!

I heard a great quote from one of my students as her group was working.  She was having trouble following another student’s logic, so she said, “I’m still a little bit confused.  Can you explain how you got that again?”  This actually gave me the idea to start a Communication Quote of the Week.  I’ll have to blog about it once I get all of the details worked out, but the gist is that I’ll highlight things I overhear students say (or something a student writes) that will serve as exemplars for others. If my little plan works, I’ll have students trying really hard (by using effective communication techniques) to be one of the students quoted!

We finished up the first class with students’ noticing and wondering on the back of the name tags.

Some of the things they noticed:

  • I notice you are very organized.
  • I notice it’s important to you that we explain our thinking.
  • I notice you expect us to treat each other respectfully.
  • I notice you really want to get to know your students.
  • I notice our class is noisy.
  • I notice our class is quiet.   Those last two were from students in the same class!  I agree with the previous student. 

Some of the things they wondered:

  • I wonder if you give much homework.
  • I wonder why you have a Texas A&M cup on your shelf, since you went to the University of Florida.
  • I wonder if we will do a lot of group work like we did today.
  • I wonder if we will work on many problems like today’s problem.
  • I wonder if math class will always be this fun.   

I actually got that last ‘wonder’ from quite a few students.  First days don’t get much better than that!

I can’t wait to read about other people’s First Days (or First Weeks) through this week’s #msSunFun theme!

#msSunFun

First Day Icebreaker — Me, by the Numbers

Today’s Sunday Funday topic is Icebreakers. I guess Icebreakers are typically activities that allow participants to get to know each other — so I’m not sure if this really counts as an Icebreaker, but it’s what I did the first day of school last year to introduce myself to my students and to learn more about them.  I think I heard about Me, by the Numbers in a Global Math meeting last summer, but I’m not sure who presented it.  Maybe it was from someone’s blog.  I need to keep better records of who I’m stealing from!

I started with a Keynote of numbers that would let students know a little about me.  I included my favorite number (42 – the answer to everything!) and then a countdown from 10 to 1.  I hesitated to use my favorite number as one of “my” numbers because that when students use their favorite numbers as one of their numbers it typically doesn’t tell much about them unless they have a reason it’s their favorite number and/or elaborate on their choice.  But I had to include it because 42 is a number they’ll hear a lot this year, because when students ask me the answer to a question, my answer is almost always 42 or a variation of 42 (e.g. 4.2 miles, $42,000, 420 unicorns).  It’s my way of saying I’m not going to give them the answer!

Mrs. Royster – By the Numbers

After I going through my Keynote, I asked students to come up with 5-10 numbers (any numbers — they didn’t have to be in a countdown format) that would help me get to know them.  In the school where I taught last year, students had MacBook laptops that they could use for this assignment, so it was easy for them to include a picture of themselves on their Me, by the Numbers page.  They printed their pages and I kept them to read and to quiz myself on names and faces.

I had to keep reminding students to choose numbers that would really tell me something about themselves.  This was a lot harder for students to understand than I anticipated.  I got a lot of numbers like 1 – the number of pets I have and 3 – how many meals I eat every day.  But I also got some really great responses, such as 1 – is the number of parents I live with.  My parents are divorced and I live with my mom and my sister. And 26 – the number of times I’ve been to Disney World. (I should have anticipated the fact that she’d miss a week of school to make that 27 times!) Another one I loved, in hindsight, is 10,000,000,000,000 – is a lot of doughnuts.  At first that one seemed like a really random, unhelpful number to share.  But as I got to know that student I realized it was a great example of his off-the-wall personality.

Sample Student Work

This year I’ve changed school districts and I’ll be teaching students who don’t have laptops. After teaching with the laptops for 5 years, it’s going to be a challenge to adapt my lessons to the lack of technology access. Of course students can list their numbers on paper, but having that picture was really helpful for me to learn students’ names.  Most of my students will have access to computers at home, but I guess I’m about to find out how well they do with assignments that require technology!

Do you have suggestions for how to increase student-to-student interaction for this activity?