Best First Day Ever!

September 1, 2013

I finally have some time to sit down and write a reflection on my first day (days, since I’m on an A/B schedule) of school. I really think this was my best start to a school year in the 9 years that I have been teaching.

Because our school is trying to create a 9th grade center without actually building a separate building, we have grouped almost all of the freshmen teachers in one end of the building. I volunteered to teach the 9th graders who were taking Geometry and Pre-AP Geometry (i.e. honors). As I mentioned in an earlier post, I really want to orient the class around problem-solving, using the Exeter problems as a base.

After doing some thinking, I really agreed with the people who had written about not using the first days of school for review. I decided I didn’t want to spend the first day of class reading the class procedures and policies to them — I wanted to do math! Therefore, here’s how my day went:

  • The classroom is set up with students in groups of 4.
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  • I randomly distributed the kids by having them draw colored craft sticks that had numbers from 1 to 8 as they entered the room — that determined their group number.
  • I used a Google form to collect student information. They could either use their phones, or school iPads to enter the information. I also had a slip of paper for them to write their names so I could make a seating chart.
  • If it was a large class, I used a spinner to pick a color at each group. The person who had that colored stick had to stand up and introduce himself and the other people in his group.
  • I told them that I was not going to read the procedures to them because I wanted them to get in the habit of reading instructions for themselves. Their homework was to read the procedures, sign the acknowledgement form, and get their parents/guardians to sign off as well. I also handed out instructions on how to sign up for a Khan Academy account, and told them that was the other part of their homework. Of the approximately 150 students I have, only about six or so don’t have internet access, so I think this will work.
  • Here’s where the fun part started. I showed them the picture of the people laying the penny floor and asked what they noticed/wondered. Most of them wondered things along the expected lines: how long did it take, how many pennies, etc. Then, I handed each group a baggie containing four 6″ rulers and six pennies and a short worksheet that had them generate a rectangular floor to cover in pennies.
    • It was hard for me, but I managed to be much less helpful than I normally have been.
    • Several students were done very quickly, but it usually ended up that they had their units confused (ex. they had a 250 ft2 floor that would be covered by 262 pennies).
    • Some of the sharper students immediately thought of dividing the area of the floor by the area of the penny, and they were a little indignant when I told them they were wrong. This was hard for me to balance how much to lead them, but for the most part, I think I did okay.
    • One really sharp girl noticed that the penny was 3/4″ wide and calculated the area of a square that was 3/4″ wide. She then divided the area of the floor by the area of her square. Her only mistake was getting her units mixed up at the beginning, but after she fixed that, she got it.
    • Once a group had settled on a number using 256 pennies (16×16) per square foot, I would use the six pennies to show them how their floor would be tiled and have them compare it to the picture. They then realized that it wasn’t quite as simple as they had thought. One girl actually used google to see how many pennies were in a square foot.
    • At the Open House we had on Wednesday, one of the girls actually told me that she really liked it when I had lined the pennies up the way they had figured the area and then shifted the pennies over the way it would be tiled. She basically said that it blew her mind in a good way.
  • When we had about thirty minutes left in class, I then handed out an excerpt from a book that really changed my life when I was in high school, Have Space Suit, Will Travel. They were able to finish with about five minutes left, so we talked about some of their answers.

All of my classes (to varying degrees) were engaged in math on the first day of class! I also noticed that I did not lose my voice the way I usually do, which tells me that I didn’t have to do as much talking as usual. My principal came by to observe on both days — the first day, he came in while they were working on the penny problem; the next day, he came while they were reading the excerpt. I think he liked what I was doing.

The rest of the week was actually fairly smooth as well. We decided to have freshmen orientation during each freshman’s math class, so on Wednesday and Thursday, I took my classes to the auditorium for most of the period. Friday, we were finally able to actually start on our first objective, which was algebraic proofs.

This coming Tuesday will be the best measure of how my plans are going to work: students are supposed to take notes from my powerpoint and do some Khan Academy problems before they come to class. In class, we will work some of the Exeter problems on slope in groups, and then I will give them a quiz over both algebraic proofs and slope. I’m a little nervous that the problems are too hard, but since I have never taught honors kids, I need to see how far I can push them. We’ll see how it goes.

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