Setting the Tone in September

So I’ve been thinking about the types of activities I want to do in September to get my students set up for the school year. I think I need to make a list of the ones I’m considering and then narrow it down from there to what I’m definitely going to include, because I think I have more than I can reasonably use. I have four basic goals with the activities I’m going to list:

  1. I want to build a relationship with my students, letting them get to know me as a human outside of math class and getting to know them as humans inside and out of math class.
  2. I want to set up norms for the classroom learning environment, where we establish that it’s okay to take academic risks, that it needs to be a supportive and safe environment to do so, that we learn through talking with each other, that diversity is valuable.
  3. I also want to establish norms for learning math, such as depth over speed, understanding WHY not just HOW, making mistakes, focusing on the process, making sense of different procedures, and building up our number sense.
  4. I want to get to know my students’ skills and capabilities in math, but I also want to get to know their feelings towards math, positive or negative.

So these are the activities I’m considering doing with the students throughout the first month to establish these norms:

  • On the first day, I’m considering having the students fill out an online survey for HW to give me some information about themselves, but I haven’t decided whether I want it to be information about them as learners, information about them outside of school, or information I can use for my 7th grade unit on statistics (or some combination thereof!). In the past, I’ve used class time to have students fill out a survey, and then I’ve rarely gone back to it and really read it over, so I think I’m either going to cut that down to a single page or do away with it altogether.
  • On the first day, in the past, I’ve done an “ice-breaker” style of activity that I stole from someone else on the internet years ago, where I give my students a “multiple choice quiz” – about me! I ask them to guess why each number is important to me, and I give them three multiple choice answers, only one of which is correct. In the past, I’ve used numbers such as 2 (when I had two dogs – now I only have one!), 4 (my softball number when I still played softball), 3 (the number of nieces and nephews I have), 7 (the number of summers I attended space camp as a counselor and a camper as a teenager), 110 (the number of board games I own – though I need to do a recount this summer, because we’re selling a bunch at our yard sale! It will still be over 85, I have no doubt!). I like this because it’s silly, it shares my personality with the kids, and it helps set a fun tone (and that they get to know facts about me). Each question is over two slides: the first slide shows the number and three answer choices, while the second slide shows the answer along with a photo. I feel like I need to tighten this activity, but I would still like to use it.
  • I want to do a “Which One Doesn’t Belong?” activity to introduce the routine to my students and use that to discuss that we all have different perspectives that may be equally valid (or focusing on different characteristics), and do some classwork norm-setting. I think I should have a few WODB’s on hand, and perhaps even have the students move around who they’re working with. I want to come up with a way to turn this into my first bulletin board assignment!
  • I want to do the Name tents & feedback that Sarah Van Der Werf posts about, because I love the idea of making a personal connection daily with my new students the first few days.
  • I am debating having my kids write me a math autobiography as their first assignment. I’m wary about assigning too much for me to assess early in the year, because I want to get to know them, but I don’t want to be overwhelmed with having to “Grade” it – and I also don’t want to give them work that “doesn’t count.” So I need to figure out a way to balance this.
  • My 7th grade colleagues both measure the heights of all of their students to use in some histograms and other data-related tasks within our first unit, so I’m probably going to need to measure their heights early in the school year somehow.
  • I want to incorporate number talks, starting with dot talks, and moving into subtraction talks. My 7th grade colleagues warned me that they think my 7th graders will think this activity is too babyish, especially starting with just dots, so I need to figure out a way to make this feel challenging – I need the right “hook” to present it to them. I haven’t figured that out quite yet. I will definitely use number talks in my AIS period.
  • I want to show some growth mindset videos, and have a discussion about the importance of making mistakes (and how that grows your brain!), and launch the “How to Learn Math” online course from Jo Boaler. I’m considering having the students all complete it independently at home over the course of the first six weeks or so, but I don’t know if I can get away with it if I don’t get my colleagues on board to also do it.
  • I want to use the talking points activity a bunch, and I think I’d like to start with the mindset ones (perhaps we do that on the same day as the above bullet point) that I found and posted about in a previous blog.
  • I want to incorporate problem solving early on, and I think I might do it using “UPS Check” the four-step problem solving idea my last school developed (based on Polya’s four-step problem-solving heuristics).
  • I want to do some “notice/wonder” tasks, because I want to get them realizing that they can make important observations about math, and I want to the be thinking.
  • I also want to do some sort of problem solving tasks, perhaps even ones that are related to the content in each unit 1, but I don’t know what exactly.

Any other suggestions for vital beginning of the year activities that I should DEFINITELY plan to do with my students?


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