Sunday, August 14, 2016

The First Week:  We are on Bell Schedule #2...

And there are actually 8 different bell schedules in my new school - the struggle to learn them is real, trust me.  My goal is to know bell schedule #1, the regular schedule, by the end of the year:)

On last blog, I walked readers through the tornado of the last day of pre-planning.  I was able to get a few things done over the weekend to help more with the first week, but I was really still just starting with what I call the bare basics.  Still, I was excited to meet my kids, and because I teach all freshmen, we were all coming to Alpharetta HS and our classroom for the first time together. 
Most of my colleagues cringe when they hear that I teach all freshmen, and maybe my readers do to, but I can tell you that I absolutely LOVE working with freshmen.  They are still young enough that I can do some of that fun stuff that exists more in middle school, but they are also old enough that I can start the big kid classroom responsibilities too.   They are transitioning to a big, new experience, and I love to mentor them through this experience.  To me, it is the perfect grade to impart a lot of shaping and molding of their high school math experience and teach them good work habits they can carry forth to be successful in high school.

I will highlight the first two days in detail and then go from there in  a more general sense.  The first two days were absolutely the best even though I was really behind from the teacher sideline.

Monday 8/8;  This was our first day.  In all classes, we briefly went over the syllabus – I don’t like to hammer too much of that because they won’t remember it, and it is on my website.  In Accelerated Algebra 1 we had to give a pre-test to see if there were students who may want to re-consider honors.  I don’t like giving a pre-test on the first day of school, but in case a student was misplaced, we did not want them to suffer.  Our school was in over count, so we needed to watch numbers and be careful of placement.  In Algebra 1, we did not give a pre-test; no need to and wanted the time for meet and greet.  I did a colors meet and greet where students took 2 color squares from a bag and then we went around the room having them answer specific questions related to the color they picked.  Questions involved things like favorite movie, book, vacation, and sport.  I love this activity for the first day because I can start learning about personalities of my students immediately.

Another favorite activity of mine on first day that I got to do with all of my students was have them fill out a student “Auto-Biography”.  It is really a “Mathography”, but I incorporated a couple of non-math questions on it this year.  I have not done this in a few years, and I now realize how much I missed it.  I got the idea from when I student taught in Minneapolis.  I believe it was part of the CPM curriculum that the district had adopted right before school started.  I do not read them until Saturday after the first week and never have because I want  to try and have some faces to go with the writing.
Here is a download for the student “Auto-Biography”:  Student Auto-Biography 

Tuesday 8/9:  Then of course on the night of the first day, I found  Sara Van Der Werf’s post on the Name Tents, which totally hooked me in!  I really had no time to do this project, but Sara is very persuasive.  That together with the fact that when I find something I like, off I go, and no one can stop me, I was doing it.   I wanted to use this tool to get to know my students in the time until I could read their auto-bios.  Because  they were coming in from 2 middle school feeders, it would definitely a good way to meet and get to know each other.   So, Tuesday morning at 7am I am editing Sara’s version and running off copies while pulling out color paper to glue them to (I had no time to go and get card stock the night before).  Still the color paper backing worked just fine in the long run thank goodness.  Because advisement was before 1st period most of the week, I had time to glue the comment/question page to the orange paper then.  I was a crazy person for that 30 minutes, but I got enough done for the periods before lunch.  Luckily I was assigned seniors for advisement this year, and they are always about as into advisement as I  am- I was able to get it done.

The name tents were a hit.  The students loved them, loved decorating them just a little more each day, and communicated some great thoughts to me.  I left the “question for me day” until Friday, and because we started the name tents on Tuesday, I had them do two days the first time.  Again,  this is where having freshmen is fun – I made the Monday question be:  Name something cool that happened on your first day of high school!  A lot of them said they were happy they did not get lost-I told them they were a step ahead of me as I had gotten lost in our huge building during pre-planning!

For any of you yet to start school, I totally recommend this idea.  It does take time, but it is SO worth it.  Additionally, when I answered the questions from Friday on the weekend, I also used the tents as flashcards to see how many faces I could put with names; total win-win-win opportunity!
Here is the link to Sara's name tent blog: Sara VDW's Name Tent Blog - A MUST SEE!!!

Another awesome thing that happened Tuesday was starting number talks and cool activities in my support class.  I had been saving a first day idea from a post by Megan Schmidt back in July about Minnesota temperature/heat index changes within 6 months.  Because I used to live there, I definitely know how brutal these extremes can be.  I think most people know Minnesota is really cold in the winter, but I do not think they realize that it can also be hotter than the south during parts of the summer.  Anyway, Megan’s post and Sara VDW’s comment about linking it to integer instruction in middle school sparked an idea to use it as a number talk in my first days with support Algebra 1.  

I started it by a map of the United States as I guessed that a lot of my students had never been to Minnesota and was not sure how well they knew the states.  I was right about none of them ever going to Minnesota, so that was a good lead in. I was also correct in that they realized Minnesota gets cold, but did not realize that it ever got really hot.    Once we located MN, I brought up the temperature/heat index comparison image.  We started talking about what they noticed, and a good 10-15 minute talk was spawned.  I asked them to pick a town to compare on the map, and for some reason they picked Wilmer, MN.  I asked them to look at both temps for Wilmer, and try to figure out how much difference in temps/heat index had occurred from the winter to the summer.  They started getting in the ball park, but then my team teacher went ahead and drew a vertical number line to prompt them, which sealed the deal for finding the exact difference.

It was as awesome of a number talked as I could have hoped for.  The students were totally engaged, and the discussion was so interesting.  Below is a picture I posted on Twitter Tuesday 8/9:

The Rest of the Week:  I continued to open up my support class with talking problems from 3-Act Math and Would You Rather.  On Friday 8/12, I did not open with a talk, but I finished class by starting them on solving 3 by 3 Ken-Ken puzzles.  Not every day went as well as Tuesday, but still, the problems are great for getting them thinking and talking.  My support class is different from last year in that I only have them one period, and most of them are not my own students.  It is very tough to build a classroom community this way at the end of every day (I have them 6th period), but it looks like that will be a front-burner project in coming weeks.

In my accelerated and on-level Algebra 1 classes, we are doing interactive notebooks, and the great thing is that they had all done them in middle school and were right on board with the process.  This will be the second full year that I incorporate them, and I am glad they like them too.  They will be getting their surface pro devices this coming week, but as I told them, devices crash – interactive notebooks do not.  One interesting thing that I noticed this weekend from reading their auto-bios is that many of them do not like having 1:1 devices; particularly in math.  I would say from reading their feedback that it is about 50/50 for or against with maybe a slight lean to against.  I think this works  well with the fact that I have not received one yet anyway.  I will never completely do everything in my classroom on the devices, but I do believe it gives them the opportunity to not carry around textbooks all the time, have instant access to teacher websites/Edmodo, and best of all in math:  DESMOS!!!   I think I will post their homework on One Note, but they can opt to print it out or do it on paper if they wish.

Another thing I kept this year was homework check sheets.  I started doing this two years ago, and I love it for many reasons.  I check off their homework every time it is assigned with an expo marker, and every two weeks I take up the check sheet and give them a grade; each homework is worth 4 points, so every 2 weeks is around 24-32 points.  The students keep the sheet with them, and what I noticed the most and made me decide to keep them is that they have a visual gradebook for themselves.  Before I did this, less homework got turned in because they could never see how many points they did or did not have.  When they use these and see zeros, they tend not to make a lot of zeros.  This is also a way to highlight important dates for school.  The sheet is broken up into 3 two-week grade sets, and since we give progress reports every 6 weeks, they know when the progress report is coming.  Here is a link to the stamp sheet: 

The downfall of the week was more and more meetings and never quite catching my breath.  I ended up late at school every night because I had a meeting every day during lunch and housekeeping things to do during planning period.   I had forgotten about my department meeting on Friday 8/12, and after 3rd period prep that day I was feeling for the first time that maybe I was about to get over the hurdle.  Then during 4th period the meeting popped up on my Outlook calendar and frustration seeped out of the edges again.  Again, I was later after school than I planned, and  I still made it to the teacher get together with some of my mathies from a nearby school, but I was completely and utterly “meeting-ed out”  I left school pretty bitter about that.  I have to say, I have never in the years I have been teaching attended so many meetings per week. 

As always, the kiddos pulled me out of my bitter mood.  I spent some of Saturday reading their auto-bios and answering the questions they asked me on their name tents.  I loved reading their responses and answering their question; It instantly pulled me out of my funk and made me excited again to start think about next week.   Again I can affirm that the main thing that keeps teachers coming back to the classroom is the kiddos; both teaching/mentoring them AND all that we learn from them.
Now a weekend later, I feel pretty caught up.  I have materials ready for most of the week, I have the name tents all answered, the auto-bios all read, keys made and loaded to Edmodo, and a couple of blogs written.  Blaugust has not been as bloggy as I had hoped for, but I have written some and hope to keep a couple coming each week at least.

Here’s to week 2 and wishing all who have yet to start the year, a great first week!

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