Math = Love: First Day of School!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

First Day of School!

Day 1 of Year 4 is in the books!  I greeted students in the hall before second period.  I'm back to having first period plan this year after having last period plan for the last two years.  I had planned to give them each a high five, but I chickened out.  I've never been that outgoing of a person, and I let that excuse win or a little while.  When students entered my classroom, the found these instructions on the SMARTboard:

Meanwhile, I kept standing in the hall, having an internal battle with myself regarding the high five thing.  I'd told myself I was going to do it.  Why wasn't I doing it?!?  

I peeked in the door to see if students were actually reading the instructions and getting the supplies out.

A few students had complied with my request.  The others were distracted by talking to their group members.  I've decided to go back to having my desks in groups of four.  Ignore the lack of decorations in various places.  I'll finish decorating.  Eventually.

When the bell rang, I decided I was going to walk in the room and high five every single student who had gotten out the supplies like the board directed.  The first few students I high fived gave me weird looks.  I had trouble getting their attention.  These were wimpy high fives.  A few students excitedly held their hand up to get a high five, and I refused.  Eventually, they figured out that only those with supplies had got high fives.  Once the other students got their supplies, I gave them a high five, too.  

I did this 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th hour.  6th hour Algebra 1 came in, and not a single student got supplies.  So, no high fives.  I guess I was feeling a little frustrated because I didn't end up giving a single high five that hour.  I had to tell them to read the board, and even then, it took a long time for anyone to realize they were supposed to be doing something.  The next class comes in.  Again, not a single student reads the SMARTboard.  :(  No high fives that hour either.  

I wish high fiving students came easier to me.  I wish I could say it made a huge difference in my class demeanor.  But, I haven't seen that yet.  

Once all the students had their supplies, I announced that they would be taking a quiz.  I set the SMARTboard timer for 4 minutes.  

They moaned and groaned about having to take a quiz on the first day of school.  Though, most of that stopped when they saw the questions.  

The students who have had me before obviously excelled at this quiz.  My incoming freshmen were just guessing.  I think both of those scenarios are okay.  I gave them four minutes to take the quiz, then I went over the answers.  

The student with the highest score got a super star badge sticker to wear for the rest of the day.  My high school students are obsessed with stickers.  I heard so many times, "Why can't we all have a sticker?  Don't you think we're all super stars?"  

I had to include a pic of my birthday cake that a student made for me last year!  

Next, I tried to squelch the rumor that I'm a crazy cat lady.  Once student said I had 67 cats on their quiz.  This. Is. Unacceptable. 

More proof I need to share this fact with the school?  I don't think this picture needs a caption.  


Kids always seem to want to know what kind of car I drive.  One student put "Grandma Car" on his quiz.  Yeah, I'm not talking to him anymore.  ;)

This led to some interesting conversations.  Is 3.14 a correct answer?  Several students tried to convince me that they just rounded pi to 3.  

I grew up an hour and fifteen minutes away from where I teach now. 

Some observant students used my TU flag that's hanging on the wall to help them with this question.

Then, we talked about my "engaging" summer vacation.  

Why, yes, I did include this question about my fiance on my quiz because I wasn't exactly sure how to tell my students I got engaged this summer. #neverhadthatproblembefore #nevergoingtohaveitagain  

The kangaroo sitting on my desk could have served as a clue to this one!  

It took some students a little while to clue in that my trip to Australia and my fiance were connected...  When they did realize it, they started making statements like "You're fiancee doesn't look Australian!"  And, at least five students asked if he spoke with an Australian accent.  Hello, he's from Australia.   

A few students were miffed that they only found out about my engagement today.  Sorry!  One student told me that another student and her had been talking about how they never expected me to get married because I have so many cats.  Yes, the problem is real.

My freshmen had no clue what NPR was...  But, my students last year hadn't heard of NPR either.

So many of my seniors were my first ever Algebra 1 students.  We've been through a lot together.  I think I'm definitely going to cry a lot at this year's graduation.

One student thought my blog would be called "Math is Awesome."  I told them that math was awesome.  Then, they assured me that was only their guess, not their actual feelings about math.  Sad day.  

They were a little shocked about how many more followers I have than them on Twitter.  "I didn't think you'd be that popular."  Ouch.

So many students thought I played the flute instead of the piano.  Though, one said she was shocked at this question since I didn't seem musically inclined.  Oh, my students are full of opinions!

They turned their quizzes over to reveal a template for them to write a quiz for me to take.  Students had to write 7 questions with numerical answers about themselves.  They struggled a lot with the numerical part.  Once student asked me what their last name was as one of their questions.

To make it easier on me to take 100ish quizzes on the first night of the school year, I had my students make an answer bank for me.  They argued that this wasn't very fair since I hadn't created an answer bank for them.  I was surprised by how much my students struggled with writing seven questions about themselves.

Here's what the quiz looked like:

After school, I spent probably an hour or so taking all of the quizzes.  I don't know exactly how long it took because I kept getting distracted by other things!  There were questions that made me laugh.  Others that made me want to cry.  Students wrote questions about health issues and family issues.  Others were super silly.  I tried to guess how many pounds students could squat and bench.  I tried to guess shoe sizes.  I found ages and birthdays pretty easy to figure out.  But, I struggled with things like soccer jersey numbers and how many shoes they owned.

Next, I gave a short little talk about what my class was going to be like since we weren't going over the syllabus until Day 2!

My school has adopted a new cell phone policy that all of the teachers were supposed to go over. Ignore the misspelling.  They've since replaced them with new posters, but I haven't taken a picture of the new poster.

I got new carpet this summer, so that necessitates the no food or drinks policy.  I am allowing bottled water.

Next, I let them know that each day we would have a warm-up based on the day of the week.  They were full of questions.  What's Taboo?  You'll find out on Tuesday!  What's Witzzle?  You'll find out on Wednesday!  I'm so nice...

The Train Game is actually called Twenty Express.  I got it as a Christmas present this past year from my sister.  It's published by Blue Orange Games.  Almost all of my students from last year have played it before, but this year's Algebra 2 classes are a mix of students who had me last year, students who had me two years ago, and students who have never had me before.  The game was all new to my Algebra 1 students.  And, I've had all my stats students before, but somehow a few of them had been gone every time we played the game last year.

I had a terrible time trying to explain the game last year where students could understand it.  So, I changed up my approach.    

They were confused at this point, but that was okay.  We talked about what made a train and what wasn't a train.  

I wish I'd created more examples and non-examples.  Oh well.  There's always next time.  Then, as a class, we circled the trains from left to right.  This cleared up a whole lot of misconceptions that had persisted with the previous year's explanation.

Next, I gave them some facts that I *hoped* sparked a REALLY important question.

In some classes, the question was immediate.  In other classes, the students seemed to except this information without it throwing up a red flag.  Finally, someone would always ask, "How can that be?"  Or, "Does that mean some of the numbers are repeated?"  I told them that the numbers 11-19 were each duplicated.  This gave us 39 chips instead of 30.  

Since I'm using this in my classroom, I actually wrote the numbers out on bingo chips with a Sharpie so if I lose pieces or kids lose pieces, it's not the end of the world.  I keep my actual copy of the game at home in nice shape.  :)  

Next, I projected a fake game card I had made up for them to analyze/score.  

As a class, we circled the trains and calculated how many points each train was worth.

At this point, light bulbs were starting to go off about how this game worked.  Next, I challenged them to try to beat my score.

Finally, I passed out the game cards.  I didn't want to pass them out any earlier than this because I figured students would be doodling with the dry erase markers!  

I printed the game cards off the Blue Orange website onto white card stock.  Then, I ran the card stock through my laminator.  This makes the boards eraseable.  

Here they are with my bag of bingo chips I use to call out the twenty numbers. 

To play, I pulled twenty chips out of my bag, one at a time.  Students wrote each chip down in a train car.  Some students seemed confused at this instruction, so I told them to write each number down wherever they wanted.  About halfway through the game, they started to realize that there is definitely some strategy involved.  They wanted to play again after realizing this.  I told them we would.  Next Thursday!  

After calling all 20 chips, students calculated their score.  Because we'd already scored my fake game card earlier, this was a very easy process.  I only had to help a couple of students all day long.  

The winner in each class received a chocolate or strawberry ice cream cone ink pen that I picked up a dozen of last summer on Amazon Warehouse Deals Clearance for $3.  Amazon still sells them, but they are much less of a bargain now.  The kids thought they were cute.  And, they were very disappointed when I only gave a pen to the student who got first place and not second.    

I like this train game because it involves critical thinking and a whole lot of luck.  It's quick to play once you know the rules.  I'm hoping we can knock out the entire game from start to finish in less than five minutes when I use it the rest of the year as a warm-up on Thursdays.  

The lamianted game boards were a little hard to erase, but a quick spritz of cleaner from Dollar Tree got them nice and shiny again.  I had students pass the bottle around.  

Next, we started discussing supplies for the year since I knew a lot of families go school shopping after the first day.  

I typed up this supply list for my students.  I included a list of suggested (or optional) supplies that I provide students in class.  However, I often find that many students prefer to have their own set of highlighters or markers that haven't been used by twelve other people that same day.  I told students that if they chose to use the supplies I provided, they weren't allowed to complain!  I printed these supply lists 4 to a page to save paper. :)  

Next, I had students sign up for REMIND.  I printed off their posters on green card stock, but I find it's easier to just have students do it all at once as a class.  I like Remind because I can send students messages without either of us knowing each other's phone numbers.  I've chosen to turn the chat feature OFF to keep it safer.  I can send students messages, but they cannot reply.

I gave the students a chance to ask questions.  A few did.  There was dead silence in other classes.  
There was about five minutes left in each class period to fill.  So, I decided to give my students the Count to 10 Challenge.  Tell the class that there is no talking unless they are saying a number.  The class has to count from one to ten.  Nobody can say more than one number in a row.  If two students (or more!) say the same number at the same time, the class has to start over at one.

It's so fun to watch students get frustrated with this activity that seems so simple.  Most of my classes ended up breaking the no talking rule and tried to come up with a strategy to get to ten.  I guess that tells me that they are clever problem solvers.  :)


  1. Sounds like you had a good first day. Your quiz is great. And I agree with the high fives. That's not really my thing, it would have been a perfect activity when I taught middle school. But I don't think I can do it. But I hope you are able to get into the routine of doing it if you want to!

    1. I think I'm just going to focus on being in the hall between classes to greet students with a smile and a friendly "hello" or "how are you"?

  2. I am VERY jealous of your school's cell phone policy!
    Re: high fives - While it's good to go outside your comfort zone at times, I think it's also important to recognize who you are as a teacher and just be that teacher. High fives may be key for others in establishing the right classroom climate, but it's ok if it's not your thing.

    1. It's our first year with a policy that's actually being followed. I'm excited!

  3. I believe in reserving high fives for celebrations, and while "You're here!" is worthy of celebration, it makes the "You did it!" high five seem cheap. Plus high fiving everybody = eww germs. I was able to get the desired effect last year with a "hello/good morning" and a smile.

    1. I've just been doing greetings. I like the idea of reserving high fives!

  4. P.S. Train game looks awesome! I think it would work to practice German numbers too - a cross-disciplinary activity!

  5. It sounds like your classes are so much fun! When I saw that you had holidayed in Australia (and got engaged) it started me thinking if their is an easy way to link up with a teacher in the country you were visiting? It would be great to visit their school, meet their students, etc. I have visited schools in Vietnam and Thailand and both were great experiences.
    Jeff Trevaskis - Maths Teacher from "Down Under"

    1. Thanks! I try to make class as fun as possible!

  6. I love the getting to know you quiz. I've had a lot of my students for Algebra 2 and Geometry last year, so it'll be nice to see what they remember.My first day with my students is tomorrow, so I will be using this idea.

    Also what did the students use the dry erase markers and erasers for? I like the storage idea. I've been using plastic gallon bags, and they're showing wear from last year. I will probably try to find plastic buckets like that this weekend.

    1. Hope the quiz worked well for you! The dry erase markers and erasers were for the train game. The boards are laminated so we can erase them after each class.

      I got the plastic buckets at Dollar Tree for $1!

    2. It did! I learned a lot about my students, although some of them didn't follow the rules. I had them grade and correct them the second day.

      Dollar Tree had a bunch of different plastic buckets, so I picked up two. Well worth the investment, thanks!

    3. Love the train game idea. Try using instead of picking bingo pieces!

    4. That would definitely work! I've started drawing popsicle sticks. Kids like blaming me for drawing a bad number. :)

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