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

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

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Comments on: "Is math class always going to be this fun? – First Day Quote" (3)

  1. I love the Noah’s Ark problem and plan on doing it with my students as well. Did you give them time to work individually before getting together in a group? I’m still toying around with this.

    • Because of the amount of time left in the class, I didn’t start with individual work (other than the fact that the noticing and wondering kind of gets their brains working in a way that just handing them the question doesn’t). But they actually had more time to work independently the next day, because whenever each student finished taking the required district baseline assessment, they worked on the problem on their own. Then the groups came back together to finish up on the 3rd day of class. I often let students think individually before a group task, but what I’ve recently realized is that sometimes there are kids who waste a lot of time because they just can’t figure out how to get started on their own. Flipping the order from individual –> group to group –> individual –> group might help with that. I plan to do it both ways this year.

  2. MichelleinMA said:

    The student work samples for “Me, by the numbers” is priceless. A great first day activity.

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