#SundayFunday: First Days of School

mtbos-sunfun-logoBecause Indiana starts school ridiculously early, I just finished up my second week of school. I survived the first seven days and celebrated last night by driving 30 min to get Qdoba and going to bed at 10:30 pm #wildfridaynight. These first days have been amazing and wonderful and exhausting and surprising. This year, our first day with students was a Wednesday, so I chose to spend the first week focusing on discovering and discussing good group work.

Some context for these plans: The plans outlined below are what I followed for my Algebra 1 students because this is (with the exception of my repeaters) the first time I have had them in class. My PreCalculus class, which is rather large this year but mostly full of students I’ve taught before, did the first two days of activities. My AP Calculus class went through the activities on the first day to give me a worst-case scenario of time needed, but we jumped into content on day 2. They are a unique group because there are only 7 of them, they are all really good friends, and they are the same 7 students I had in my PreCalculus class last year.


I have a major love/hate relationship with the first day of school. By the time August ends, I’m begging for some kind of structure in my life because I have usually become nocturnal at that point. I start really missing my students and coworkers and am anxious to see them again. But I hate teaching students I don’t know. So much of my classroom workings depend on strong relationships, which don’t exist in the first days of school for most of my classes. I hate that awkward time where I don’t really know their personalities and they are still trying to decide if I’m crazy or awesome or unhinged.

Because school started immediately after I returned from TMC, I relied heavily on things that I had learned there or had tried in the past. As much as I would love to not spend the first day on the syllabus, I’m not quite there yet. So we spent less time, which I’m ok with for now.


Mini Golf Marbleslides on Day 1

After being greeted at the door (in an annoyingly enthusiastic way), students found their seats on the seating chart and began filling out an “About Me” info sheet. I use a seating chart so I can learn their names as quickly as possible. During the year, we switch seats about every other week. Desks are in groups of four. The info sheet is the same one I use every year. Because our school is so small, I have many of our students for multiple years. I keep all of their beginning and end of the year surveys and give them back to them at graduation. Here is the survey I use. I stole a lot of the structure and questions from this free survey on TPT.  The questions about accomplishments, goals, and “most important thing to know” are the ones that end up being the most eye-opening and useful. After the survey, I went quickly through the highlights of the syllabus, mainly focusing on the grading system and supplies needed. We paused to sign up for Google Classroom, Remind, and to bookmark the class website. Then, they worked in pairs on this Mini Golf Marbleslides.

Reflection: Overall, day 1 went really well. I lucked out that none of the class meetings disrupted any of my classes, so I was able to get through my plans in all of my classes. I love reading their About Me surveys and then re-reading them several times throughout the first semester. The Marbleslides was a huge hit. They were super engaged and didn’t even realize they were thinking about slope and plotting coordinates.


After getting all the first-day craziness out of the way, I was super excited to get to Days 2 and 3. For the warmup, students filled out a math identity survey that asked them how they view math, view their math ability, and think others view their math ability. I plan to have them take it again later in the year to see if any of those things have changed.

Then, the magic happened. We did the 100s Activity from Sara VanDerWerf. I didn’t follow the directions completely. I required them to all use the same type of writing utensil for the first two rounds and then had them use different colors for the last round. I only gave them two minutes and did groups of 3 and 4.  We kept track of their “score” on the board, which added some extra competitiveness. They were so into the activity and asked to keep playing at the end. And their lists of what good group work looks like were very impressive.

After making a list of things that characterize good group work, we applied that to working on the Noah’s Ark problem from Fawn Nguyen. They had to decide, as a group, how many seals and be able to defend their answer. At the end of class, I had them (in writing) defend their answer or, if they didn’t get to an answer, explain what they had tried. They aren’t used to problems like this in math class, so there was a lot of mumbling and groaning at first, but once they got into the problem they were ok. The biggest issue was helping them past the places where they got stuck. Their gut reaction is to give up and call themselves stupid, so providing encouragement was a bit part of this activity. I love watching them work together and argue about math. It was extra funny to hear them yelling about seals and elephants and zebras.

Reflection: Both of these activities were awesome, and I look forward to using them in the future.  The students got very frustrated that there wasn’t an easy answer to Noah’s Ark and struggled with putting their thinking on paper. They don’t care how they got there (even if it involves cheating) as long as they get the answer, and I care way more about how they got there. This has been an issue at our school for some time, across the board, even with our honors students. Not sure of the solution, but recognizing it is the first step I guess. It definitely challenges me when I’m planning to build in more opportunities for growth in this area.


By Day 3, a lot of that awkward-beginning-of-the-year-ness had lessened. And, although the kids are still trying to figure me out, they are starting to open up a bit. For the warmup on Day 3, we did a KenKen puzzle.  I LOVE KenKens. We started doing them every Friday during the second semester of last year (mostly because my new smartboard made clicking the numbers super fun!).  Once they understand how to solve them, the students love them too. I don’t plan to do them as often this year, but we will still probably see them every other week. I gave the students time to solve on their own or with their group, and then we had a whole group discussion about solving strategies.

We spent the rest of the class period playing Rainbow Logic from Sarah Carter.  I tried this last year, but it did not go as well as I had hoped for various reasons. I decided to try it again this year, but as a follow-up to our group norms discussion.  It was way more successful this year. The students were not strategizing as much as I had hoped, but they did a good job of following our norms and communicating well. I think next year, I will probably let them play a round or two and then pull them back for a strategy discussion before setting them loose to play again.

Reflection: Next year, discuss in the middle of the Rainbow Logic activity to increase strategizing. Maybe do a round where I’m the grid master and the class is the team? I’m glad I decided to try this activity again because I LOVE it. Even without strategizing as much as I would like, they had great discussions and were super engaged.

So this post turned out way longer than I had anticipated. In summary, the first three days were awesome and I am super, duper excited for the rest of the year!


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