So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reflecting about the first two weeks of school for this upcoming year. I’m not sure yet exactly what I’m going to do now that I’m changing schools. I originally had my plan for the first two weeks (since there’s only 6 days of instruction) when I knew my school, but now that I’m going to be at a different school, and I’m looking at the prior year’s opening weeks, I’m not sure what to do.
Let me lay out what my original plan was and then I’ll think about which parts to keep and which parts to change.
I used to have my students fill out a questionnaire on day 1, but after a few years of never doing anything with that information, I realized my strength was NOT in reading those papers (and making meaning or being able to USE that information in anyway), so two years ago, I did away with the questionnaire. Instead, I replaced it with the name tents from Sara Van Der Werf as both the opener and closer on day 1 (and the whole first week of school we use it to communicate). I learned WAY more from that than from the long questionnaire, and because it was so short, I was able to respond to each and every student I taught, and it built a much more meaningful first day conversation. So I definitely plan to continue to use that in my new school.
The main activity that I’ve used on the very first day of school has been basically the same exact activity since 2012, my third year teaching. I did some googling and reading on the internet and I found two websites that talked about an activity “Numbers about Me” that the two teachers used almost as a “quiz” to get to know them. They also talked about the quality of responses the students told them about important information about them. And I will confess – some years, I’ve learned more important stuff than others (like “7, the grade I was when I stopped cutting myself” – though that student later cut again in 8th grade). I like it in many ways because it gives me an excuse/fun way to introduce myself to the students using numbers and I like it because it’s original – none of my students have done a similar activity in their other classes, and activities where they write the rules all wind up feeling the same after a while (especially when you ultimately have the same rules every year!). I have shared with them the following facts every year (in multiple choice quiz format and then there’s a “reveal”). I ask a question along the lines of “The number 1 is important to Mr. Golan because…” and then three reasons, two of which are usually humorous and one of which is true.

 Number of children Mr. Golan has.
 Number of dogs Mr. Golan has.
 Number of states that Mr. Golan has lived in.
I then share my answer with the kids (in this case, it’s the number of dogs I have).
I go through that process of asking a multiple choice question and then revealing information about myself about 4 more times. Last year, I shared information such as the following with my students:
 36: Number of weeks Mr. Golan attended Space Camp.
 2: Number of siblings Mr. Golan has.
 109: Number of board games Mr. Golan owns.
 5: Number of dollars Mr. Golan spent to buy his bike.
I then ask the students to write about 3 numbers that are important to them and why. Most of my sixth graders wind up only getting through one or two numbers if I make them do it in class, in about 5 – 7 minutes of writing time. And then I always inevitably have the problem where some kids write faster than others, so one kid is done WAY early and some kids still haven’t even finished writing about their first idea. Some kids choose to make it multiple choice and others choose to tell me the narrative about why that number is important. Both ways tell me a lot about the kid in some ways, but I also don’t have a great way of tracking this information, so with my memory, I wind up forgetting it as I get to know the kids. I have the kids use this activity to do their first turnandtalk, where they partner up and share what they’ve written with their elbow partner. It gives me an opportunity to introduce some norms for the first day of school about how we talk in partnerships.
I feel like there are many pros and cons to this first day activity, and I’m on the fence about whether or not to continue using it as DAY ONE. I enjoy being able to share about myself with the kids, and I think it builds nicely into the name tents activity at the end where I invite students to share something with me. I’ve debated whether to have students finish it for HW or not to add more to it. I’ve even had students choose one to make a “poster” of in the past, but other than putting it up on a bulletin board, I rarely wind up using that. I feel like it’s not something I get super engaged with learning about the students from, even though that’s my ultimate goal. I think it’s like that classic fire hydrant in the face – I am getting too much information to take in. The last two years, I’ve had students complete the “Who am I” handout from Dan Meyer, and I’ve retained that handout much into the school year. I feel like that information I’m much more likely to go back to, though there are a few that I want to change. Graduating class always confuses my sixth graders (and graduating from which grade? 8th? 12th?). I also feel like there were things I wanted to know about students that weren’t included in there, but I can’t recall them now, off the top of my head.
Recently, I was reading twitter and I came across a new blog from Jess. I really like what she described as her ideas for the first day of her classroom in her blog, but I’m not sure whether it makes as much sense coming from their math teacher in middle school… So I might also see what the other teachers are planning for their first day activities.
The rest of my day 1 tends to be collecting summer assignments and giving out the HW and supplies list/welcome letter and then giving students enough time to respond to the name tent activity. Although, that’s been in a 44 minute period in the past, and this year, the new school I teach at has hour long periods, so I might be able to do a little bit more on day 1… The biggest downside to day 1 as I see is it that it’s very mefocused in terms of teacher talk (the kids do a turn and talk about their important numbers, and I’ve typically asked a few kids to share out at the end – often about something they’ve learned about their PARTNER, as opposed to sharing their OWN ideas, but I haven’t done that in a few years). Otherwise, they really don’t have an opportunity to talk; they just do a LOT of listening! And, there’s also no math on day 1! So these are the two reasons I’m questioning my choices – while it IS a fun activity and helps build relationships (the number one priority in all of September), I worry that it sends the wrong message for the first day of class.
Anyway, we’ll revisit day 1 ideas after I discuss the rest of the first two weeks.
On Day 2, I’ve typically done a Growth Mindset introduction the last few years. The kids read over their name tent feedback and set them up, they watch some videos from Jo Boaler, and I have them do an exit ticket about “I used to think… but now I know…” regarding ideas around intelligence. This, combined with the posters that say “change your words, change your mindset” make for a great beginning of school year bulletin board. With this activity, I do a lot of turn and talks after each video we watch, and I have whole class share outs to discuss some of the ideas we’re hearing that may feel new or different. I really find this to be a valuable activity for the students, though I’m also wondering about combining it with the Talking Points activity that James Cleaveland created and shared here. I think considering my new school uses masterybased grading (and Jump Rope) and my 6th graders may never have been assessed like that (and I’ve never done assessing like that), and it fits in line with some of the ideas about the way our intelligence can be grown (and not comparing ourselves with each other, but only with our past selves, etc), I think it might make a nice conclusion to day 2.
However, once again, day 2 concludes with no REAL MATH. I’m on the fence about this delay. On the one hand, I value the importance of community building and norm building and relationship building. I think that we can’t do any real math, I can’t ask my students to be vulnerable and trust in each other and me if we haven’t done the prework to set up that type of community… At the same time, how many days without math do we need for that? Is there a way to accomplish some of those same ideas WITH math embedded? I don’t have an answer for that.
Day 3 is another homage to Sara Van Der Werf, as I use her 100 numbers activity. I found that it’s a great way to take photos of my students and discuss what good group work should look like and sound like. I think it’s especially important because one of my personal focuses this year is on the tension and balance between independence and interdependence (see my previous post), and I realized that sixth graders don’t always know how to listen to each other and do successful turnandtalks! They don’t know how to share the air (or that it’s important that we SHOULD!), so I think it’s important to spend some time discussing these norms. I just noticed that Sara also includes print outs of the photos she takes, and I LOVE that idea – and I think I will try to use it this year! Once again, though, we have day 3 with minimal math. At least this day, there’s MUCH LESS of me talking, and way more of them talking. I also use this activity to discuss what mathematics IS (I think I had my students do the tweet “#mathis” activity last year that I got from Sarah Carter’s blog, Math = Love).
Over the course of these three days, I elicit from my that math is the study of patterns and that mathematicians make sense of math by convincing themselves (through independent think time), convince mathematical friends, and convince skeptics. We use that word skeptics A LOT over the course of the year, and I have two posters to match those two ideas. In the past, I’ve used the next week of classes to further set up our problem solving and listening community by using math tasks from Jo Boaler’s Week of Inspirational Math. This year, my original plan was to use three contemplatethencalculate tasks around area because my previous school’s first unit was going to be a modified Illustrative Mathematics first unit, which made area its first unit. My original plan was to do three days of CthenC, starting with the same pattern David Wees and I created to launch it this last year (basically the number of squares arranged in a rectangle, where the rectangle’s area is 2n + 2), then using the circles set up in an array with a “hole” in them from Illustrative Mathematics’ grade 6, unit 1.6.1, and then using the visual patterns #43. In thinking about each of those three tasks, I felt like they each leaned a bit more towards one of the three different types of “structural” thinking – the first one feels CONNECTED to area, the second one feels like they’re most likely to SUBTRACT the missing CHUNK (or possibly to rearrange), and the final one seems most likely to be CHANGED. That would give us some structural language to use from the getgo.
The BIG difference is that now, instead of my first unit being about area (and thus directly using those skills I was going to introduce from CthenC), my new school is using the CMP3 curriculum still. Our first unit is Prime Time, which deals with factors, multiples, LCM/GCF, prime factorization, the locker problem, even and odd numbers through rectangles, and eventually order of operations and the distributive property. I haven’t done the math yet for the distributive property problems in there, but I wonder whether it is introduced better there or in the IM curriculum – I’m going to decide over the summer which way to use to teach it. I also REALLY like the way I’ve done OofO the last two years through the NCTM article about “The Truth about PEMDAS,” but I don’t know if my students will need more of an introduction than the Boss Triangle, or if we can start from there.
I guess my big question is how to incorporate more mathdoing to the first three days of school to get my students thinking like mathematicians sooner – but then also wondering whether I need to rush that, or if it’s ok to delay that for a few days… What are your thoughts? Feel free to reply here or to tweet at me @MrKitMath