First Days

So I have an hour to kill at the moment, but I need to be productive so I can start getting sleep at night. I want to talk through the first week, but no one is here, so I’ll just throw things at the wall and see what sticks.

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Some background: This year, because of weird holiday schedules, our first day isn’t until Wednesday, September 9th. We have three days that week (Wed – Fri) then we have a FOUR DAY weekend, followed by another 3 day week. We have a normal weekend, then we’re back for two days, have Thursday and Friday off (for Yom Kippur and Eid, respectively), then a Friday of classes, then another weekend. So basically we don’t have a normal week until October. This is so very annoying.

Because we only have 3 days and then a four day weekend, I don’t want to start actual content in that first short week. Wednesday will only be 30 minute periods because of administrative first day stuff and Fridays are slightly shorter to begin with, plus kids are transferring in and out of classes and it’s a mess. So I want to figure out some way to meaningfully use those first three days without jumping straight into “Unit 1” as it were.

More background:  I’m teaching two new classes this year, both of which are IB classes.  First is IB Math Studies, which is the most “Applications” type course that IB offers.  The second is IB Math Standard Level.  I’m teaching the first year of each course, so the kids are as new to it as I am.  I am teaching only juniors, and last year I taught primarily sophomores, so I’m expecting a fair bit of overlap with students I’ve taught before.

Here are my thoughts so far:

Day 1 – Welcome (Back) to Mr. Baker’s Math Class

The basic schedule is that we start out in advisories in the morning, then have shortened classes, then are back to advisory at the end of the day. I was told to expect 30 – 35 minutes. But of course kids are going to be confused about who is in what classroom and in what class, plus kids will be absent since the week is so stupidly short. So I’m thinking kids walk in and on the board I have a “Which one doesn’t belong” that kids think about and jot some ideas down on. This introduces them to a couple things, like how I’ll be having kids develop arguments and explain their thinking in my class.  I also like the idea of starting right off with something mathy.  The nice thing about WODB is that I can also tie it into the use of Plickers. I was thinking rather than having a seating chart on the board I’d just have plickers at every table with everyone’s name (Downside: I have three classes in a row, how do I reset plickers and still meet everyone at the door?  Which reminds me, high-fives for everyone when they walk in the door, a la Glen. I guess I could just have them in sets of four for each table and not worry too much about exactly who is in which chair).  I can start out by asking kids to vote for which one doesn’t belong using the Plickers, and then later in the week we will be able to use them again.

I’m really not about reading the syllabus, especially because A) a lot of it is just borrowed from the Math Department and B) they can read it just as effectively at home.  That said I do want to talk briefly about some of my expectations for the year. I’m going hard on the two big rules that I got from Meg:

  1. Work Hard
  2. Be Nice to People

Everything else will build from those. If you’re cheating, you’re not working hard. If you’re talking while I’m talking, you’re not being nice. Do I need to explain WHY these rules are important? It seems fairly self-explanatory to me. I’ll explain some of my other expectations (3 minutes for passing, no food and drink) but those are fairly standard, especially for anyone I had last year.  Maybe I’ll lay out the rules in the syllabus, have students read for homework, and then take any questions the following day.

I also want to set-up some new expectations I have. Last year I was kind of lackadaisical about notebooks, I was like “You need to be taking notes every day” but didn’t take it beyond that. Our kids can get by without note-taker-makers so I just sort of left it up to them. This year I’m following Jonathan’s $1 textbook idea (and been bugging him on twitter about it).  Students need a composition book for class dedicated to only math.  I have some ideas on how to keep them accountable I’ll share in another post, but since this is a new rule I want to be very explicit early. I am giving kids a week to get their notebooks, so basically they should have them by the time we start new content.

Then if there’s any time after this throw up some pictures of my summer vacation and have a conversation with the class to help me learn any new names.  This already feels like a lot for 30 minutes, so I probably have to streamline.  Let’s think:

  1. Entrance, warm-up, conversation (10 minutes)
  2. Brief review of Big Points on Syllabus (15 minutes)
  3. Summer debrief, quick name game (10 minutes)

For homework, I want kids to read through the syllabus and prepare any questions for me. I’d also like them to read the Make it Stick excerpts that Julie made. By the following week, they will also need to get a notebook (or two) for notes, sign up for Edmodo, and fill out a short student survey so I can get their contact info and get some more information about them (favorite color, one word to describe math, etc).

Day 2 – Math Mindsets and Learning

After listening to all my teacher friends on Twitter, I really, really want to have a day where we talk about how we best learn math. I’m really interested in the idea of a growth mindset and refusing to let any kid tell me they “Just don’t get math”. So I want the kids to have some conversations about it. How do we learn math best? How do you feel about math at the moment?

For warm-up, I think we give them some sort of diagnostic quiz they have to fill out about their mindset. Then we have them  pair-share? Or maybe a talking point structure? I’ve never done Talking Points before but I think it would be very helpful for me to have more of a structure for discussion in Math class. I also think it will be a very useful tool for tackling misconceptions later on in the year.  We follow all of this up with a Plickers share-out so we can have actual graphs for each idea, and then have an open discussion about things. I really want to drive home how important I think it is for students to keep working and trying, and I want to find ways to value what they do even if they’re not 100% correct. My planning partner recently finished reading a book about mindset so I need to sit with him and pick his brain.

My biggest concern is that this isn’t enough for a whole day.  I want to have some good conversations about things, and I only really have like 45 minutes, but still.  I think after we have the mindset conversation, I’ll leave the last five minutes or so to have a discussion about any rules kids are uncomfortable with. I at least want to justify what I’m thinking, even if they disagree with it. And I’ll leave room for suggestions from students (not that I’ll necessarily take them, but at least hear what they have to say).  I’ll also have a random puzzle problem just in case everything finishes up super early.

Day 3 – Welcome to IB

Obviously any new math class has a ton of new material. While I’m all about spiraling, I’m not going to introduce a bunch of new material randomly on a Friday. But there are other things about IB that are different than the traditional Regents courses that students have taken in the past.  We want to take this day specifically to look at some sample IB problems so we can discuss their general structure as well as certain new vocabulary (for example, they call it “Gradient” instead of “slope”).  It’s also a good way for us to review some of the expected “Prior Learning” from the year before. My colleagues from  last year have already gone through the IB Question Bank to pick out some problems, so barring any major issues I’ll just use those.

I think this is probably the best time to introduce students doing practice work on the table whiteboards I bought. I’m synthesizing this and this to get students working on task for longer and being more productive. I’ll need to set up a norm or two (share the space with your table, don’t draw a giant penis on the board, etc) but it’s generally going to be a shared space. This actually makes me realize I need to be very specific about my whiteboard work-time expectations, so that’s something I will have to flesh-out over the next few days.

After the students have worked through the problems for a few minutes, we will show them the markscheme for the problems and review how these problems will be scored. There are a lot of points for accuracy, as well as command terms that can alter exactly what the question is asking for, so it should be a meaningful use of time. We can have a reflection at the end to formalize what students have seen.

So that’s pretty much my thoughts. My one question is if we switch the Day 2 and Day 3 plan. We really only have 5 fewer minutes on Fridays, but the general pace feels more rushed for some reason. But I feel like logically the mindset thing should come before the intro to IB. Plus we’ll be revisiting IB questions routinely over the next two years, and I want to set the tone early.

I welcome any and all thoughts, thanks in advance!

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4 thoughts on “First Days

  1. Glad to see you back to writing, and fascinated to get the inside track on a math teacher’s mind. As a staunch humanities grad, I suggest one thing for Day 2: prove to these kids that higher level math is and will be relevant to them. I bet half of the “just don’t get it” kids would get it if they thought what they were doing in your class had a shelf life beyond their diploma. I remember staring off in to space during pre-calc, but working a lot harder in statistics–precisely because it was presented to me as, “These are concepts and skills that are applicable everywhere, and you’re better off learning them now.” Good luck this year! Looking forward to more stories.

    • What frustrates me about this is that English teachers seldom have to justify why they’re teaching Lord of the Flies, and even most history is only relevant in trivia competitions, but there’s no attitude of “When are we going to use this?” It’s ways of thinking that are useful, but there’s often more of an onus on math teachers. But thanks for reading! I’m trying to blog more this year, we’ll see.

  2. Thanks for writing; I’m trying to get ready to think about school, with trouble. This post has me envisioning the first week. I love the Which One Doesn’t Belong; I was thinking of doing the same thing myself. I was thinking about the Plickers – will you have them already assigned to your class lists? (We don’t get ours until THAT DAY.) The other thought I had (or was having in relation to one of those first days in my class) was to do some kind of Number Talk – maybe that would work for the extra time on the second day?

    The start of school in NYC is going to be very uneven this year, so thanks for pondering out loud.

    • I’m thinking I just assign them alphabetically. My initial seating chart is alphabetical anyway, so just have kids sit in alphabetical order and count off the plickers accordingly.

      I don’t know enough about Number Talks, that’s one thing I need to look into this year.

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