First Day, First Impressions

I started my 17th year of teaching. At the beginning of my teaching career I was so concerned with going over every rule, procedure, and expectation on day one to make sure the kids knew exactly what to do and how the class will run. However, as the years have passed I have realized that students rarely remember anything that you say on that first day, but they do remember how they felt. Did they think the teacher was nice? Did the room feel welcoming? Did they have fun? So over the last couple of years I have been very intentional with what activities I plan for the first couple of days. I have gotten much better at still laying the ground work for a successful year and what my expectations of them are, but in a more fun and engaging way. Every year, I go to bed the night before the first day with butterflies in my stomach as I nervously await to see if plans will fill the time and get the desired results. This year was no different.

I start off class with a round of Get To Know You Jenga. I challenge the class to see if they can make it through the entire class without knocking over the Jenga board. I love this because it incorporates problem solving as well as risk taking. The class comes together rooting on each person to successfully pull out the Jenga piece and lots of collaboration and communication as they give “suggestions” on which piece to pull for the best chance of success. Once they pull out the piece there is a question that they must answer before they can place their piece back on top. I learned this year that lots of my students want to move to warmer states like Florida or Hawaii. I have several students who enjoy biking (a great piece of knowledge that I can use later in the class to spark their love of math as we incorporate their love of biking). I have students who love Italian food as much as I do. However, my favorite response of the day came from a young lady who said that if she won a million dollar prize she would use it to help the homeless people in the state and then use whatever was left to help out her family members that are struggling. What a huge heart and another piece of information that can be tied into future math lessons.

From here I introduce myself as the number six. I tie in all the ways that the number six best represents my life. I then challenge the students to start brainstorming what number best represents them and how could they display that number in a visual way. On Friday we will pick back up on this assignment, when we head to the computer lab to start putting their ideas together for their My Life As A Number Project. In less than 10 minutes we have began to build a sense of community. They have learned more about their classmates and their teacher, and I have learned so much about their passions and interests which will help to guide their math journey this year and my ultimate goal of helping them to #seemath and see the relevance of math.

With the last twenty minutes of class we dive into our puzzle challenges. In math class this year we are going to do lots of group work. What better way to get them into the habit than by starting with group work on the first day. We set our group work norms and then the kids dive in. Most of these kids come in thinking that math is mainly computation. Now computation is a very important key to mathematics and poor computational skills will lead to other issues down the road, but my goal is for students to realize they aren’t just human calculators. Math is about risk taking. Math is about problem solving. Math is about collaboration. Math is about communication. Math is about perseverance and learning from failures. Math is about looking for and finding patterns. Each of the challenges the students will be participating in over the first two days of school force the students to work on each of these skills. Plus throw in some friendly competition (winning group earns the first Strole Bitmoji Badge of the year) and the kids are ready to go! Most groups only made it through 1 or 2 of the challenges today. Tomorrow they will get to come in and tackle the rest of the challenges for the entire period. Prizes are awarded at the end of each period on day2!

Challenge #One: 1 to 100 challenge. In this challenge students are given a paper with the numbers 1 to 100 mixed around the page. Each person in the group picks a different crayon from the box. The first person finds the number one and shades it in. The second person finds the number two and shades it in. The third person find the number three and shades it in. The fourth person finds the number four and shades it in. Then the first person finds the number five and shades it in. The second person finds the number six and shades it in. This continues until all 100 numbers have been shaded in. However, the fastest groups are the groups that find the pattern. After four or five rounds you could see the light bulbs go off, the groups huddled together, they whispered their observations to each other so no other group could steal their idea, they tested it, and once they realized it worked they were off and oh so proud to raise their hands when they finished and they beamed with pride as they completed their first “defend it” which is really just where they have to explain to me how they were able to beat the other groups using mathematical words and steps.

Challenge #Two: The Square Challenge. In this challenge students are given a baggie with five puzzle pieces and they are challenged to create a square. If they can make the square using four of the five pieces they will receive all 15 points. However, if they can make a square using all five of the five pieces they will receive 5 bonus points and thus making their chances of winning the entire challenge that much better. However, using all five pieces is much more challenging. I loved watching as the various groups tackled the problem. Some decided to start with the four out of five challenge and ensure that they received points. In this challenge, the group members really had to listen to each others ideas. There was LOTS OF FAILURE as they attempted multiple combinations until they finally found the correct grouping. Then other groups showed great risk taking as they went for the five out of five bonus challenge. This risk took lots of time, with no guarantee of any points. I loved learning which of my groups were the risk takers and which liked to play it safe.

Tomorrow groups will finish up the challenge as they tackle the multiplication with a twist activity which requires them to figure out what symbol pairs with what number. They are given 11 symbols and are told that they must match to the numbers 0 – 12. The symbols are used to make multiplication statements. This challenge will really ask them to use their computational skills, however, they will then have to look for patterns and problem solve. I love watching as the students use process of elimination (or really perseverance in failure) to start to piece the symbols with the numbers.

The final challenge is the match my image challenge. In this challenge the students are given a bag of dominos. Once student gets to walk up and take a “sneak peak” at the image I created with the dominos. The person who walks up and looks is the person who will then have to communicate to their group members how to recreate that image. They can not touch the dominos themselves. Each time that they come back up for a “sneak peak” they will lose one point from the total points possible. However, having me check the image and it being incorrect will result in a three point deduction. This challenge will force the group to pay attention to detail, be awesome communicators but even better listeners. This challenge is always one of my favorites to watch! There is always hair pulling, laughter, screams of frustration, and eventually dances of joy!

After doing variations of these challenges over the last couple of years. I will never go back to the old way. I have time to teach them about where to pick up papers and turn them in over the first two weeks. I can’t ever get back that first impression of my class. I can never get the “buy in” to the class that I get during the first week of school. I teach both the honors level algebra class as well as the remediation class. My Honors Algebra students are normally easy to please. They love the puzzles and challenges, but they also tend to love math already. This year will be all about pushing them further than they have ever gone and getting them to be mathematical thinkers and problem solvers, rather than regurgitation and computational experts. However my favorite comment of the day came from my remediation block class when a student came up at the end of the second period (I have this group for two periods back to back) and said, “I never thought I would enjoy having two periods of math. But today was actually fun Mrs. Strole. I’m ready to come back tomorrow!” Now that’s a win in my book!” By the end of the year, I’m determined to get the word “actually” out of the statement. That student will say math is fun!!!

Below are the 1 to 100 challenge paper as well as the template for the square challenge puzzle.


7th and 8th grade math teacher from Fishers, Indiana Mom, coach, friend, daughter, wife, and amateur photographer

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