Back to School Night

My school’s Back to School night (also known as Curriculum Night) is in a few weeks. Usually this presentation creeps up on me and I end up tweaking last year’s slides for this annual night.  This year I’m trying to be a bit more productive and get my plan started before the school year begins.  It also helps that @druinok has a great #MTBoSBlaugust initiative this month so I can actual address this now!  Better now than later, as once school starts it gets a bit hectic with time management.

I generally have about 30 minutes with parents during Back to School night.  My time occurs before the principal has an annual address.  I usually have around 30-40 parents come into my classroom to hear about what the class is all about and they also sign-up for conferences.  It’s usually a rush to get a preferred time.  You’d think that we’d move to an online system, but not yet. I try to pack my room with adult-sized chairs, but there’s usually quite a few that are standing. Parents sign-up for parent/teacher conferences during this time so it’s usually a packed room.  I loop with almost all of my student for three years, so some parents sign-up for conferences because they already have an idea of the policies and procedures and head out.  Newer parents often stay to hear about the class.  I also mention earlier in the year that the Back to School Night presentation is on my website.

I start off the presentation with introductions.  I usually say this is my ___ year in the district and tell everyone to hold onto the questions until the end.   Every year someone still asks questions around the second slide.  Go figure :-).  We go through an agenda to give everyone a heads-up to what’s coming.   I review the materials that are needed for the course.

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These supplies generally last for a few years.  Each item gets a whole lot of use throughout the year.  The first one to go is the accordion file as students put in their homework, quizzes and sometimes even their journals in there.  I have a roll of duct tape  on hand for the accordion files that don’t hold up.  The “pro” compasses are the best and I try to get a hold of them when I find them on clearance.

The next few slides discuss the different classroom routines, tasks, and resources that will be used for the year.

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I discuss how the adopted-text that we use spirals and there’s a large emphasis on problem solving / application.  I also indicate the different resources and activities that take place during certain grade levels.  I usually have an example that I can refer to but I have to keep it to a minimum because of time.  I usually get some curious eyes when I bring up the Stock Market Game, Estimation180 and AlgebraByExample.  Around 5 – 10 minutes is spent on this particular slide.  It’d be amazing if I could have the parents actually participate in one or two the activities. Maybe during a math night at some point?

The next slide communicates the homework policy.  Basically, I state that it’s not part of the overall grade, but expect to see it come home around 2-3 times a week.  Over the years I’ve reduced the amount of homework that I generally give.  I find that the students that actually need the practice don’t complete it and I’m eventually chasing down those that don’t turn it in.  It adds some unneeded anxiety for just about every party involved.  I’m actually even thinking of dropping this down to 1-2 times.  I’m still internally debating this issue even as I write this post.  I then discuss the grading scale which is 50% tests and 50% quizzes.  I also mention how students are able to retake certain assignments.

I then mention how to access the school math resources.  I point the parents to the school website and how to access the student portfolios on SeeSaw.

At this point I have around 5 – 10 minutes left and then answer questions.

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I have a list of FAQ questions and  mostly relate to how parents can contact me.  I mention that the study guides will be available on my website.  This is new this year and something I’m encouraged to try after reading Make it Stick. I try to end the time on an important point.

I use Fawn’s slide and go through her points.  I generally follow the same plan for the past few years.  You can find more information about how I use this here.

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I feel like ending on this slide is powerful.  I want to ensure students create their own math identity in my classroom.  There’s some resistance to this (especially # 1) but I feel like parents are receptive to the idea as they see their children develop perseverance skills and develop self-confidence.

My time is generally up after this last slide.  I remind parents that they should sign-up for a conference before leaving.  I usually walk with a few parents down to the auditorium where the principal gives her address.  I’m looking forward to this night seeing that I feel better prepared now.  🙂

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New Twist to Curriculum Night

Curriculum Night


My school’s curriculum night took place last Tuesday. Like past curriculum nights, I had a presentation prepared and intended on having it last around 20 minutes or so. The majority of my class parents visit during this time to discuss class curriculum, policies and happenings for the new school year. The presentation went as planned for the first 15 minutes or so. I fielded a few different questions and landed on my last slide for the night. This slide is actually from a Tweet Fawn sent out.

I left the slide up for a few seconds so the parents could process the information. I did get a few strange looks from parents and knew I had to clarify what the slide meant. After about 10 seconds of silence I went into explaining what each section meant to me.   My paraphrased comments are below each section.

  1. Be less helpful:

I feel like parents and teachers attempt to help whenever the need arises. It’s innate to help when our kids struggle. We’ll even show the student a process or way to complete the problem. Instead of doing this I’d like to suggest that as a team, we help students develop individual perseverance. It’s okay to help, but let’s not complete problems for students. This doesn’t help them long-term in having students develop a conceptual understanding of particular math concepts. Give students opportunities to struggle and develop their own math identity.

  1. Asking them to make estimates often

At a very young age we ask students to estimate. One way in which we practice this skill is through Estimation180. Students are asked for a low, high and just right estimate. Ask your child to create similar estimates at home and in the community. One benefit is that students start to identify when their estimates are reasonable or not. This “reasonableness” plays a role in students’ understanding of the magnitude of estimates. So many opportunities exist to make estimates. Carefully pick situations where your child can make estimates with a variety of units.

  1. Asking them to help you calculate something

Giving your child opportunities to do this can help students practice their computation skills. More so, calculating items mentally can lead students to round or estimate their answer. That mental computation is powerful and reinforces number sense concepts that are being discussed in class. It would be interesting to observe how your child calculates the sales tax in Lake County – 7% compared to Chicago’s Cook County – 10%. Ask your child how they came to the solution.

  1. Asking them what do you notice? What do you think? How do you know?

I believe this goes with the first item of being less helpful. Instead of giving students an answer or specific process, ask them why they’re completing certain procedures. Ask students for input. Look for the reasons why they’re taking certain actions. Ask them to prove why procedural steps are taken and encourage your child to take a “proof” approach when completing problems.

  1. Not saying , “I was never good at math.”

It might seem obvious, but students hold onto comments like this.  I may hear them from time to time in school. Students tend to take sayings like this and use them in response to a negative math experience. Like I said earlier, I’d like students to develop their own math identity and be confident in their own ability. I’ll also mention that sometimes our non-verbal actions also play a role here. Regardless, being aware of these types of statements can help my students and your child create their own perception of math.


I spent the last five minutes of my presentation on the points above. I really felt as though the audience resonated with these statements. It was honest and I felt like parents needed to hear this perspective. During the night, parents were able to walk through the school and see new bulletin boards, shiny technology, new curriculum materials, sign up for parent/teacher conference and meet their teacher. All of those are great, but I thought this last slide made one of the largest impacts of the night.