Starting Class

A week ago I wrote about my over-arching goals for the year. Then I started a post that talks about a typical day in my classroom, which became so long that I wrote a subpost all about how I’m doing homework. Then I went back and wanted to keep writing about my classes, but the warm-up section became too big. Basically, I talk way too much.

So now starting class is its own section. And maybe this will also put into perspective how much thought teachers put in to everything they do.  This entire post is all about only the first 5-7 minutes of class.

High Fives at the Door – At TMC15, Glenn shared his “My Favorite” for high-fives at the door. His logic was something like “People get high-fives when they’re doing something awesome, and it’s awesome that you’re coming to my class today.”  So I do high-fives at the door. It’s great for a bunch of reasons:

  • I get to greet every student as they walk in the door, usually with a smile. I get that extra chance to read their body language and see how they’re doing.
  • I’m in the doorway so I can monitor the halls without actively being a hall monitor. Plus students I don’t teach then start to ask for a high five, so culture building all over the place.
  • I can check for student uniforms, reminding them that I’m paying attention (I know there are lots of feelings about uniforms. I like them at our school but I understand reasons why people don’t).
  • Students can ask me quick questions if they have them, specifically “Can I use the bathroom?” which I prefer they do before class starts so I don’t get interrupted. I’d rather they miss the warm-up than miss instruction or practice time.
  • Because students are waiting for the high-five, it gives me that extra 30 seconds to mentally prepare for the class. I know some teachers hate having kids just loitering in the hallway, but I really need those few minutes to reset not just the slides, but myself.

The one downside is the loitering in the halls, but on a good day the turn-around is pretty quick (and on a bad day them in the hallway is less of a problem for me than then in my space when I need a second).

Warm-Up – This year I’m trying to do things a little differently.  Students walk in and they see something that looks roughly like this:


So what’s different about this year:

  • Putting it on a “notebook page” instead of just a blank slide. Many of my students are very bad about organizing their notes in math class.  So I’m trying to rectify that by providing some visual structures for them to use. It has to have the date, it has to have the lesson number (SS is for Sequences and Series, the number is how many lessons into the unit we are). It has to have the essential question for the unit and it has to have the warm-up. As the year goes on I’ll let students be more flexible in how they take actual notes, but I think these sorts of headers are very important for kids. Many of the kids just write the date but that means nothing to them in three months when they’re studying for the test.
  • Indexing lessons by unit abbreviation and number. Last year I just did something like 5-1 or 3-11. While kids became very aware of the numbering system, I realized those numbers meant nothing to them (and barely meant anything to me). So abbreviations now.
  • Essential Question instead of an Aim. I’ve come to realize I hate SWBAT aims. Because at the end of the lesson, the best you can do is make it a Yes/No question. “SWBAT to factor simple quadratic equations” Well can they do that? It’s seldom as black and white as “yes” or “no”, especially after the first lesson, and there’s a serious lack of depth to that level of understanding. So I’m trying to use questions this year that require a more nuanced response. I already know from planning just the first few lessons that it’s going to be a struggle to make questions that don’t feel stilted, but I want to try. Ideally I’d love to get to the point where I can structure my lessons more like this, but I’m super-intimidated by that at the moment.

After really thinking about it for a while, my warm-ups are going to stick to the review old lesson/preview new lesson format, especially in Algebra 2. I originally was thinking of doing something like Mary does, which I love and think would be so helpful in the long run for my students, but the truth is I can’t quite get my head around how best to implement it in my own class. I like the flexibility of being able to target things in warm-ups. But I will definitely use visual patterns and estimation 180 when I’m blanking on a warm-up and need something more meaningful than rote practice.

I am going to do something slightly different with warm-ups in my Studies classes this year. It’s my first time teaching seniors, but I already know how ridiculously stressed out they can get, especially in IB when they not only have college applications to do but also a crapload of IB assessments all due around the same time. So we will instead let kids opt to take one day a week to have a fun warm-up. I will pick a kid at random and they will get to choose the day, the song, and the candy they get for the day, and they will get to choose which fun math activity we do. I’ll give them options like Estimation 180, Visual Patterns, WODB, or Ken Ken. I’m expecting them to push back and be like “But Mr. B, Math isn’t fun”, but that’s exactly the reason I’m forcing them to choose a math activity. Because math should be fun, and the stuff we normally do isn’t necessarily. II’m hoping it also acts as a reminder that I care about the kids, and I hope that it encourages them to show up at least on that one day. It could all blow-up in my face but I’m excited to try since I have wiggle room in the schedule.

The other thing I should mention is that I let kids write Friday Letters instead of their normal Friday warm-ups. I didn’t get many last year, but I do love the practice and will keep it up this year. I just need to be perfect about writing back by Monday (which I was not perfect about last year).


2 thoughts on “Starting Class

  1. Pingback: Other things I do in class | Pythagoras was a Nerd

  2. Pingback: Back to School: Let’s Do This. / Global Math Department

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