First Day of School Reflections

I mentioned previously that this will be my first year teaching 6th and 7th grade, and also my first year at a new school. I’m trying to think about how I want to launch the first day, keeping in mind that (a) my classes are more likely to be only one period (my last school had mostly doubles, and my new school has only one double per week per each of the 4 classes). I reflected on the norms and ideals that I want to set up in my classroom, but I’m not sure how to do all of that from the start and what the best way to begin is.

In previous years, I give students a survey to fill out when they walk in the door that I rarely wind up looking at in the longer term (and I could digitize perhaps – as I’ve created a google form that corresponds with it) that’s taken them as much as 20 minutes (and that was with 8th graders who typically read faster and write more quickly than younger kids – when I’ve given the same form to younger students, it’s taken them longer to finish it – I need to edit it down majorly if I decide to use it again this year). It had some interesting questions, but also some questions that didn’t return the types of answers I was hoping for – so I’m wondering if there are better first day of school surveys. Also, some of the information I wanted to get was about the student technology ownership, and I feel like a digital survey would be a better way to collect and review that data.

After the survey, I usually begin with an introduction of myself (and any student teachers). Then I tell the students since it’s math class, we’re going to discuss some “very important numbers” and take our first “multiple choice quiz.” I hand out a paper with about 7 numbers on it and I read each slide aloud as they follow along and select answers to questions like “Why do you think the number 7 is important to Mr. G?” because “A, it is the number of summers he attended space camp, B, it is the number of bathrooms in his apartment or C, it is the number of instruments he plays.” Students get to know me by this fun little ice-breaker (some are more obvious than others because the “wrong answers” are obviously more wrong, but my favorite factoid is that I own over 100 board games! It changes every year because I buy more games and I have to do my newest count, but they always assume the number is my apartment number!).

Afterward, I have students write down three of their own important numbers to introduce themselves to me. I give them some think time to write something down and then I try to have them turn-and-talk before class is over to get to know their “elbow partners.” I usually hand out my welcome letter with the curriculum overview, my rules, expectations, and supplies at the end of class. The full thing has often taken the whole entire double when I had double periods, and now I’m likely to have only one double period on the first day (if that!).

I also usually teach two routines on the first day. I teach my routine for passing in papers (pass it to the right, along the rows) and the “Give me Five” procedure with the raising the hand for quiet (which I am not as enamoured with as I once was).

On the subsequent days, I’ve taken anywhere between one and six more days to do various tone-setting activities, including things like reading over  the rules/expectations and summarizing them in tweets, doing some activities around fixed vs. growth mindset and other ideas from Jo Boaler’s How to Learn Math Course, investigating Visual Growth Patterns (like Fawn Nguyen’s), and fish-bowling a “scripted model” discussion and then debriefing what a good discussion has (four parts: be concise, listen, reflect, and everyone contributes”) – then we talked about constructive behaviors, especially constructive behaviors, and destructive behaviors of group members within the discussion.

In reflecting on this first day and previous years’ activities, I realized that one of the things I liked best was the year that I did a lot of work on setting group-work norms, on discussion norms, and the How to Learn Math Course (all of my students completed the course for HW, and we watched some videos in class and discussed them). I definitely have at least one “extra” day I could get away with spending on some of this before launching into my unit, but I’m not certain I want to spend my first day the way that I have in the past.

One of my new colleagues told me she often has students play SET on the first day in groups, and it’s a great way to talk about attributes of members of a group. That almost reminds me of the idea of WODB in reverse, and I could see how it might match this classroom that uses WODB:

On the other hand, she already has a class set of SET, and I only have one copy. So I couldn’t necessarily do that, nor do I know if I want to.

Another one of my new colleagues told me she measures the students’ height on the first day (because our first 7th grade unit is on data) while they do a little activity designed to help them review operations with integers (which they learn in 6th grade at my new middle school). The activity has them assign the numbers -12 to 12 to different letters and find the sums of various words, including their own name, the names of their group-mates, etc. I like this idea in that I like how the students are working together, they’re getting a chance to talk to each other and come up with words, and they’re getting to know each other’s names and how to spell them. I think the context is a little bit contrived, so I don’t quite know how the students will react to the math involved. I also like how student-focused it is (i.e. they’re talking to each other), on the other hand, I’m not certain that I want to spend so little time interacting with the students on the first day (i.e. be busy measuring their heights while they’re interacting with each other).

Then I’ve been reading the twitter blog-o-sphere, and everyone’s got TONS of ideas. Some of my personal favorite activities (first day/first week):

Math is like…

100 Numbers to get kids talking from Sara Van Der Werf: (again, will probably do it in first week, but not first day).

The talking points activity here will be done by me this year, probably not on day 1 (because we need some time before delving into it), but we’ll definitely do this in the first week:

I think one of the other things I find missing from my first day is MATH. Yes, there are numbers, and yes we’re making connections between ourselves and our numbers (i.e. the number 1 is important to me because I have only ONE dog!), but we’re not noticing, we’re not wondering (except maybe why does Mr. G have so many board games!?), and we’re not thinking or communicating mathematically yet. I also worry about all of the focus being on ME – and especially in 6th grade, many of my students will have never met each other before (on the other hand, their other teachers may be doing ice-breakers with them, and many of us are probably thinking about sitting them alphabetically, etc.).

What are your first day activity ideas? Do’s and Don’ts?


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