Math Class – Day One

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Updated on 8/11


My school officially starts in about two weeks.  I’m in the process of editing my digital files and revamping them for the new school year.  It’s a process that I tend to complete every year around this time.  Part of me is already thinking that summer is finished (even though I know it’s not), while another part is excited for the new year.  To be honest, I haven’t fully turned the switch to school mode.  I’m gradually moving in that direction though.

I’m putting together this post to collect my thoughts, reflect on what’s worked before and become a bit more organized with my planning.  In the back of this browser I have a bunch of documents open. My Evernote is in my second tab as well as Tweetdeck.  Each document is somewhat related to an ideas of what I can potentially use during the first few days of school.  Some are activities that I’ve used in the past with success and others are brand new to me.

I usually stick with a similar plan for the first few days of school. I generally play it conservative during the first few days.  I’ve used similar activities during the past five years or so.  After all, building the classroom community and creating a math atmosphere is so pivotal in laying the groundwork for a successful year. Right?  So I tend to use activities that I’ve found successful in the past.  That’s interesting because I tend to try out many new activities/tools as the year progresses, but I keep those first few days standard.  This year I’m planning on doing a few things differently.  I’ll be keeping some of the routines the same, while adding a few newbies (to me) in the process. I have to also keep in mind the fire drills and other logistical pieces that are often required during those first few days.

I know that I’ll be seeing at least three classes on the first day of school.  Each class will last about one hour long.  It’s never really an hour long because of commuting time, lockers, materials, and other reasons.  So I basically get around 55ish minutes for the first day.

I’m planning on having a slide on the whiteboard when students enter the classroom.

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This slide is still a work in progress.  I’d like the students to find any seat that they want.  The tables are already setup in groups of three or four.  Generally students gravitate towards their friend crew, although I have a limited amount of seats so that isn’t always possible.  I’m also thinking about giving kids a card and that’s associated with a particular table.  Still mulling around this idea.  My fourth and fifth graders have had me as a teacher before so they’re usually expecting what they saw last year.

After they all sit and quiet down (which is usually so quick on the first day) I’ll review the agenda.  I’ll introduce myself.  I’m not going into details this time.  Usually I say that I’m Mr. Coaty, a Harry Potter fan, live in Illinois, am a swimmer, and so on…  Instead of doing that, I’m borrowing from Sarah and using a “Getting to know Mr. Coaty” quiz.  I don’t have questions yet, but will in a couple days.  We’ll review the quiz as a class and then the kids will give me a multiple choice quiz.  I’ll basically copy Sarah’s amazing idea and have them put this together and turn it in before the end of the class.  I’m thinking this quiz activity will take around 15 minutes or so.  I’m planning on taking the quizzes after students leave.  I think this a fantastic way to get to know your students and is also a positive step towards building rapport.

After the quiz the class will play a game or two of the geometry game.  It’s similar to Simon Says, but with geometry and number terms.  For example, when I say acute angle, students make an acute angle with their arms.  I show the students the motions associated and then we’ll practice.  This shouldn’t take more than five minutes.  This game is revisited throughout the year as more vocabulary is introduced.

I’ll then pass out the standard “beginning of the year” papers.  At one point I almost went  completely digital with this, but I had issues getting back all of the documents.   My information letter explains the curriculum, policies and all of the other formal pieces.  The Twitter letter explains how the class uses Twitter and how to follow the class on our journey.  The parent information letter is homework for the parents.  Parents fill out their name, contact information and any other comments that they feel I need to know about their child.  I tend to get everyone of these sheets back.  About half have comments and sometimes a couple are more than a page long.  I appreciate hearing from the parents – it gives me a different perspective. The last part of the packet is the math unit letter.  The letter comes from Everyday Math and explains what’s included in the first unit of study.  I’ll review the entire packet with the kids and then ask for questions.  Students put this away and we move on.

This is where I’ll explain the arrival/dismissal flow chart.  I will (hopefully by next week) have flow charts hanging up in my class explaining what to do during arrival and dismissal.

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I try to make this as concise as possible.  The class will practice the arrival process.  We’ll go in the hall and then enter back into the classroom.  I find elementary students need this practice at first.  I’ll give examples and counter-examples.  I go a little overboard with the counter-examples, but I think the kids have a good understanding of what’s expected.  I’ll do the same with the dismissal flow chart.  This takes a good 10 minutes.

If we have time, my plan is to start Sara’s 100 numbers activity.  The students will already be in groups, so I’ll plan on following Sara’s example that she showcases on her blog.  I’m hoping to have students start to see the positive benefits of working in groups. I’ll be taking pictures and videos that the class can discuss afterwards.  I think this will be a good lead-in to when the class discusses appropriate critiquing later in the week.  This will probably take at least 20-30 minutes.   I might even have to extend it into the next class period.

Near the end of the class I’ll pass out the student consumable journals.  We’ll review the dismissal flow chart and I’ll send my kids to their next class.  I might end with a teaser about how we’ll be looking at math puzzles tomorrow.  I realize that this is a lot to accomplish in one class session.  I’m flexible in moving the 100 activity to the next class if needed.


Update:  8/11

After thinking about it and talking with a number people on Twitter, I’m going to switch up some of these activities.  We’re allowed to change our plans, right?  I guess this post is a living a document.  : )  I boxed the changes.

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I decided to give students the opportunity to create name tents.  This is straight out of Sara’s post.  The back will have a daily feedback form for the first five days.  I’ll probably start asking them questions by the time days 3-4 roll around.  I’m going to give a lengthly amount of time for this during the first day.

So I decided to move the 100 activity to day two.  I’m afraid that the class won’t have enough time to complete that entire activity in the limited time that we have.  I’d rather have students complete that activity in its entirety, instead of splitting it up into multiple days.  I think it loses some of it’s bang if it’s split up.  The puzzle activity will replace the 100 activity.  Students will each be given a puzzle piece.  Students will fill them out and the pieces will be compiled to border the class door.

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I just need to remember to give out an appropriate amount of pieces to each class so it actually makes a rectangular border.

The second day looks like this:

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This is what’s scheduled to occur, barring any fire drills or expectations meeting.  I read about the triad of responsibility chart about a week ago through Caitlyn’s blog and thought this would be another great way to emphasize classroom community.  It also emphasizes the math component.  I think this anchor chart has a place in my classroom.  It’d be great to have the class co-create it and then it can be referred to throughout the year.  Major kudos to Caitlyn for writing about her experience at NYC Math Lab.  I could see this working really well with my own classroom.

Another piece that I added this year is related to a math claims wall.  I’d like to use a full bulletin board for this and claims will be added and the modified as the year progresses. Something similar to this:

Since I teach multiple grade levels I might split up the board into three parts.  This is my first year trying a math claim wall out so it’ll be interesting.  🙂

I’ll be introducing the paper roller coaster on day two.  Usually my third graders complete this. This is one of my students’ favorite activities and it usually lasts for the majority of the year.

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For the past few years I’ve bought one set and used it as a math station.  Students work on creating a base and foundation for the coaster.  They have to cut and score the card stock and eventually create around a five foot roller coaster.  I’ll only have time to introduce the project, but it’s a real exciting time as students enjoy the creative aspect of this activity.

We’ll end day two with the tent feedback forms and a look at factors.  Over the next few days the class will start Estimation180, write in their math journals and work on the first unit of study.

I’m looking forward to what this new year brings!

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First Day Plans

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Welcome Back!

Students started their first day of the 2016-17 school year this past Thursday.  The school busses rolled up to the school curb around 8:15 and dropped off their students.  Excited and anxious students came off the bus and directed themselves towards their teacher’s line. Teachers stood with clipboards ready to meet students and match a name with a face.  Some students knew exactly where to find their line while others were confused because this was a brand new experience for them. Teachers came to the aid of those students that needed help to redirect them to the correct teacher line.  High-fives and hugs were prevalent as teachers and students started the year off by making meaningful connections.

There’s nothing quite like the first day of school for students and teachers alike.  There’s a sense of optimism and a fresh slate.  This is part of the uniqueness of being a teacher.  My first day plans seem to change every year.  The changes are small, but I’m always looking for ways to optimize that first day to start off the year on the right foot.  The emphasis is always on building a classroom community.  This emphasis continues throughout the school year, but is much more prevalent during the first week of school.  As students entered my class they saw the slide below.

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Students generally find their own seat.  This year I had students use a sort to get to know each other and what they did this summer.

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I gave students around three minutes to find matches.  Afterwards the class discussed anything that surprised them.  I had a few volunteers add to the discussion.  I introduced myself to the students.  The majority of them know about me as they see me in the hallway of the school or they’ve had me in another class.  I intentionally spent some time to describe my family and hobbies.

After about 10 minutes the class moved on to the next activity.  I borrowed Sara’s 100 task activity. Feel free to check out the link for exact directions and make sure to follow her @saravdwerf. Basically, students are placed in groups and asked to find 100 numbers in sequential order.  Students are given three minutes for the first trial.

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Teams have to work together to find the numbers.  After the first trial most groups found between 10-20 numbers.  I asked the groups to discuss strategies and gave them a second trial.  During the second trial students identified 30-40 numbers.  After the second trial students were given more time to discuss strategies needed to accomplish the task.  I then divided the board into quadrants.  I didn’t give students any more specifics and let them discuss strategies.  The majority of the groups were able to find all 100 numbers during the third trial.  During that time I took pictures of the groups and then the class created an anchor chart on what quality collaboration looks/sounds like.  The chart is not complete as the class will add more details next week.

Afterwards, students started to fill out their ‘about me’ puzzle piece.  On each piece students wrote specific information about themselves.  Eventually the pieces will be posted in the classroom.

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Students didn’t finish their puzzle piece but that’s fine.  They’ll continue working on that during day two.  We didn’t even open up our math journal for the first day and that’s also fine. Building a classroom community is important and that’s our focus for that first day.  These relationships will be foundational for this school year.  Next week the class will be discussing how to have a growth mindset and we’ll be starting Number Talks.  I’m looking forward to the adventure!

Plans for a New School Year

School is just around the bend
School is just around the bend

As with most summers, this one has gone by quickly. Fortunately I was able to find some time to relax and attend a few different workshops/conferences this summer. One of the highlights was being able to attend a visible learning conference with colleagues from my own school. Being able to purposefully plan with colleagues has it’s advantages.  I also had opportunities to read for enjoyment over the summer and put together some ideas for the new school year. After reflecting on what I’ve been learning I decided to prioritize two personal initiatives for the new school year. The two ideas below are not new, and I feel like they’re obvious to some, but I’m finding deeper reasons for why they’re essential in the classroom. The ideas are general and I expound on them in a narrative first and how I plan on using them in my own practice second. By writing them down I’m hoping to review the ideas throughout the year to see what progress has been made. It’s also a way to keep me accountable.  Here are a few things I want to keep my eye on during this upcoming school year:

Relationships and culture matter

I don’t think educators can say and see this in practice enough. Building a relationship with students in a class matters. It matters to the students on a personal level and helps in the learning process. Although many educators feel pressured to jump right into curriculum, spending time building a community-centered learning space is important. Students learn better when they think their teacher cares about them. Building a classroom community from day one pays dividends throughout the year. Students need to feel like they can make mistakes in the classroom. That doesn’t happen unless students feel safe in the classroom.

I plan on taking the first few days of school to engage students in community building activities. The class will be completing a “get to know you” survey and set expectations for the class. We’ll also be completing the marshmallow challenge and have some rich conversations around math and mindset. I feel like instructional strategies make little impact if students have a fixed mindset. The same could be said for teachers. Before delving into content I want to ensure that the classroom community is moving in the right direction.

Learning is more important than the teaching

Learning happens in a variety of forms. In schools the learning is more important than the teaching. Students often learn when they’re empowered to do so. Teachers can create the right environment and give students strategies to learn, but the learning is ultimately their responsibility. I believe learning needs to be visible to the students and the teacher. Documenting the learning through paper, digital, audio, or video means can give both students and teachers artifacts that can be utilized to show growth.

I‘d like to make learning more visible in the classroom. I’m planning on having students use math journals to reflect and document their learning journey. I’m also planning on using effect size data to show student growth over time. To do this I’ll need to create additional pre-assessments to analyze pre/post data. I’m also planning on moving away from letter grades on unit assessments. Instead, I’m going to have students reflect more on the skills being learned in class.  This is a change from past practices so a lot of modeling may be needed.


School is soon approaching and I’m close to being ready. Most educators that I know are fixing up their classrooms or getting ready to start school very soon. With a new year comes a new group of students and another opportunity to make an impact. How will you make an impact?

First Few Days of School

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In less than a week my school year starts. The first week is so important in helping set the tone and stage for the school year. Usually I take out my lesson plan from last year to start planning out the present school year. Some of the activities are the same from year to year and others I tend to ditch. This post/plan is by no means set in stone, but it’ll be helpful in planning as school is just around the corner. Ideally, I’d like to get to everything noted in this post, but honestly I doubt that will happen.  Flexibility is key here and this is a rough outline.

Keep in mind that I usually see four different groups of students during the first day of school. Each group stays for their math block, which is about an hour.

Day One

For the past few years I’ve always had music on as students enter the classroom for the first time. This year will be no different. Students will enter the classroom and find their own seat. The seats aren’t marked. Once everyone arrives I’ll quickly introduce myself and ask the students about their summer. I ask the students to write down one activity that they participated in this summer that they’d like to share.  Students write this down on a Post-it note. I then take all the notes and read off the activities. Each student then claims their activity and tells the class a bit more about their experience.

The class then reviews the arrival / dismissal flow chart.   This is a time where I open up the floor for any questions. We then have a conversation about procedures within the classroom. This takes about 10 minutes. The class then participates in a hands-on geometry game. It’s similar to a Simon Says, but with geometry terms and movements. The students tend to enjoy this and it’s a time for them to get out of their seat and engage in a different activity related to math.

After a few rounds of the game we all find our seats again and I pass out the student consumable math journals. Students then take out their math supplies and start organizing their accordion file.  I model how the accordion file should look and place the tabs in the correct places. Students label their accordion file tabs and organize their materials. I give each student a class information sheet, curriculum guide and contact sheet. Students get all business-like and start organizing their files.

Then it’s picture time! We all line up in the front of the class and take a class picture. The picture is then usually used during Back to School Night.

Following the class picture students start filling out their hand. Students use a Sharpie and write their name on the hand and place it on the door. It remains there for the entire school year. In some sort of small way I feel like it also encourages ownership.

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Completed hand project

After all the hands have been tapped up on the door we move to the next activity, the puzzle piece community builder. This has been a staple activity for years. The puzzle starts like the picture below.

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I then cut out the pieces and each student creates their own according to the directions.  Students place their name, favorite place to visit, favorite math topic, an interesting drawing or whatever you’d like them to place on the piece.  All students in the class create a puzzle piece and then the puzzle is put together once everyone finishes. Once it’s finished it hangs in the room for the year.

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Students usually have around 10 minutes or so to work on the puzzle piece before they leave to their next class. Near the end of class I remind students of the dismissal flow chart as they leave.

Day Two

While students enter the classroom I’m planning on having the arrival / dismissal flow chart clearly visible. Today students will help create expectations for the classroom. This takes up a good part of the class, but I feel like it’s worth the time commitment. Once the expectations are established, students sign their name and this document is posted on a bulletin board for the year.   I’m planning on having students practice logging into their online math accounts today. This is important because the math student reference book is only online.

Students will also continue to work on their puzzle piece. Today I’m planning on introducing Estimation 180 and the student recording sheet to the class.  I haven’t yet decided on what picture to use, but I’d like to incorporate this periodically throughout the school year.  By end of the class students should (emphasis on should) have finished their puzzle piece. Today I’m also taking pictures of students as they work. I’m looking forward to using our class Twitter handle and Instagram to document our learning journey.  Students will be asked to compile Tweets in their own words that I will send out throughout the year.  This is another way to document our shared math experiences.

Day Three 

Again, students will follow the flow chart that’s posted. I’ll remind students of the expectations that were created yesterday. Students will start to compile the community puzzle of the classes. Today I’ll introduce the math journal to the students. Students will write about their past experiences with math and maybe even write a short version of their math autobiography.   This is a good opportunity to talk about the learning process and how mistakes are valued in this class. I want students to be able to use the math journal as a reflection tool and a place to record their mathematical learning. While students are writing in their journal I generally play sometype type  of music in the background. Students find a comfy place in the classroom to setup their journal time. Once finished, the class will move to a math game/station discussion. Each grade level will play a math game related to their current goal. Some of the more regular games that we play are Angle Tangle, Factor Captor and Name that Number.

Day Four

Today is dedicated to the Marshmallow Challenge. Before completing the activity the class will have a discussion about the importance of being part of a community that’s supportive. We also discuss the math implications of building a tower out of food items. At the end of the time the class will measure all the towers. We then fill out a plus/delta chart indicating what worked and didn’t work. Students usually end this class by having a conversation about team work and building a classroom community of support/trust.

Day Five

Students will delve deeper into their mathematical understanding by completing different types of open-ended/response problems (similar to 1 or 2) in small groups. Students will be asked to explain their thinking and find a solution. Student groups will present their solutions to the class. Many of the open response problems have already been compiled and are found in the district-adopted curriculum. Afterwards, students will be asked to document their experience in their math journals. Students will also login into their Showbie account on their Ipads. Students will be using the iPads to turn in certain math projects throughout the year. Students will be asked to take a picture of their work, annotate their picture and turn it into their Showbie account.  This will also provide students with an avenue to share math work with others.