First Week Activities

Another year, another country, and another school! Phew, all this moving around is getting tiring, and I’ve been teaching new courses every year. I’m so grateful to the MTBoS community (Math-Twitter Blogosphere) for sharing resources and teaching tips and tricks, it makes me so happy to be teaching math! I can’t praise it enough! Sarah Carter from Math = Love, Sara VanDerWerf, and Dan Meyer have been my go-to’s for classroom activities and lesson ideas. 

I’m teaching high school math (grades 10 and 11) this year. My school runs on 80 minute blocks. Here’s what I did.

Algebra Seat Finders and Visibly Random Groups – Rather than making a seating plan or having students choose their own seats I greet students at the door and hand them each a card as they walk in. On the card are algebra problems involving one or two step equations and order of operations that are easily solvable via mental math. The answer to the question will tell them which table to sit at. I’ve arranged my tables into groups of four and have signs taped to the side of the desks so they can easily find the group number. (If you would like to download copy of the seat finder cards I used, they are available at the bottom of my post). 

​I do the same thing each day, so that every day students will sit in different groups. I like this activity because students are doing math as SOON as they enter the classroom.  Some students will cheat and trade cards with other people so they can sit with their friends, but you will come to notice this quickly. I tell students that in this class we are a community and that they will always be working with different people so they get to experience different perspectives and meet everyone in class. Even if certain students don’t get along, it’s low stakes because the seating changes every day. On Fridays I give them a break and tell them to sit anywhere they like. It was interesting for me to notice that given the choice, students tend to sit with classmates with similar level. Peter Liljedahl has done some cool research on visibly random grouping, check out his free webinar here


All these cards solve for x = 1, as my class is arranged in groups of four.
Day 1 

  • Bell Work – Who I Am
    • Start the class with low key student profile sheet from Dan Meyer as I take attendance. Gives students a chance to tell me about themselves. My favourite questions on this sheet are the “Self Portrait” and “Qualities of a good math teacher.  
  • Numbers Quiz
    • Adapted from Sarah Carter. I beef this up a bit and use this as an opportunity to talk about test/quiz expectations (no talking, no asking a neighbor to borrow an eraser or calculator…etc.), and the consequences for cheating. I tell them that this is a difficult quiz and so far no one has been able to obtain a perfect score. All I ask is for them to try their best, and if they don’t know an answer, guess. When I tell them to flip their papers over I usually hear a few chuckles or giggles. Again, I enforce that the room should be silent and let them know I mean business.
Next, I tell them a bit about myself and we grade the quizzes. #2 and #6 (distance questions) are a good chance to incorporate number sense and reasoning as most students have no idea how far it is from China to Canada or how long it takes to run a 21 km race. 

  • Student Quizzes
    • Next, I give them a chance to write ME a quiz about themselves. I take their quizzes and return it to them to be marked. Most students asked basic questions like “What is my favorite subject?” or “What is my favourite food?” Others were more creative and decided to have a bit of fun with the activity… 
  • Personality Coordinates (Dan Meyer)
    • Originally planned to complete this activity the first day, but I was over-ambitious with my planning so ended up introducing it and coming back to it later. First I showed students this diagram:  
I asked them to silently think of things they notice/wonder about the diagram. Then I did my first ever Stand and Talk and went around listening to conversations which gave me a chance to check in on students’ English ability. I teach EL (English Language) learners so I found it helpful to model how a conversation might go the second time round: 

Student A: What do you notice about this picture?
Student B: I notice there are two perpendicular lines. What do you notice?
Student A: I notice the four dots are arranged in a square. What do you wonder?
Student B: I wonder what the teacher will ask us to do with this diagram. What do you wonder?
Student A: I wonder if this is a function. 

We discuss and review parts of the coordinate plan. I ask them a few questions about the dots. (Which two dots share the same x-value? Which dot has the lowest x and lowest y value? etc.) 

The next time we revisit this activity I start with an example: 

  • Name Tents (Sarah VanDerWerf)
    • ​At the end of each class on the first week I asked my students to choose ONE question and answer it in their name tents: 

      • ​1. One thing you enjoyed about today’s class?
      • 2. One question you have. 
      • 3. A suggestion for class. 
    • I write back to them every day. This is a big commitment but worth the time in my opinion. 
    • Some positive feedback I’ve gotten: Fun, engaging class, students enjoy group work and team activities
    • Some things I need to work on: talking slower, writing bigger on the board
    • Some questions I’ve been asked: When do we get the textbook? When do we have our first quiz? Is math difficult? 
​Day 2

  • Syllabus Quiz
    • Rather than giving a long speech about course expectations, school and class policies, I wrote a quiz. Even though I assign syllabus reading for homework most students will not do this. The quiz is open book and is graded (can be done in pairs), and I count it towards their “English proficiency” grade for the course. 
  • Talking Points
    • This one MUST be modeled to students. It’s a little complex, especially for EL Learners so it’s important to explain clearly and minimize the amount of instructions given. The main point is to get ALL students talking and sharing their opinions.  To model the activity, I pick three random students to do a “practice round” with me. This was less effective with my grade 10 students as they are new to the immersion program. Next semester I might film a teacher example of this activity to show students instead. 
  • What is Math?
    • Share our ideas of what math is, give a common definition of mathematics that we will use for the course. 
  • Expectations for the Year
    • Go over things like: cell phone policy, asking to go to the bathroom, materials needed for class, binder expectations, course evaluation…etc. 
  • Name Tents
    • Again, end the day with student writing me some feedback. 

Day 3 – Day 5 
Teach some content and continue reviewing and practicing start of class and dismissal routines. 

Algebra Seat Finders – Groups
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