Saturday, August 12, 2017

An Outstanding First Day and Week!   2017-2018

School started for us this past week.  I can honestly say this may be the best first week of school I have ever had- I feel so blessed!   My students are so good-natured and hard-working; they remembered more from last year than I ever could have imagined.  I only discovered that at the end of the week as we spent the first part of the week getting to know each other and doing cool math-y activities.

The first two days back I did a couple of Sara Van der Werf’s activities that I had not implemented yet.  The first was the 1-100 number task for group-work skills building.  The students were just as engaged as I had seen in pictures on Twitter from other teachers who have done this activity.  Below is a picture from my senior Calculus students working on it.  If you have not tried this activity yet, you much do so – it is a total winner!  Even if you have started school already, it can still be done before you start any routine group work for the year to help students work together in groups.

I introduced my students to Ken-Ken puzzles this year again but in a different way.  I had seen this idea on Twitter, but I cannot remember who posted it.  Anyway, I started by putting a Ken-Ken puzzle on the projector like this:

I then had the students stand and go find a different partner for this activity.  I had them do what Sara Van der Werf calls a “stand and talk”.  I gave them 2-3 minutes to look at the solved puzzle and talk about things they noticed about the numbers and patterns in the solutions.  We then came back together as a class and people shared what they had talked about.  Together they shared observations such as how the "numbers in bold" operated together to get the number at the top of the box, that no numbers were repeated in rows or columns like Sudoku, and they noticed that only certain digits were used..  Given that, I clicked on the link for a new unsolved 4 x 4 Ken-Ken puzzled that we solved together as a class.  They got through it very quickly and were actively engaged.  That was on Tuesday, and by Friday they endeavored to solve a 5 x 5 puzzle.  They struggled a bit with an extra row and column, and they did not finish it before the bell, but I told them that we would pick up from there next week.  They had tried a new level, and I was proud of their motivation.  Below is the link to the site for Ken-Ken puzzles that I used:

Also on Tuesday after the Ken-Ken puzzle time, we played Sara’s 5 x 5 grid game.   After using some of the period for Ken-Ken puzzles, we played two rounds of this game.  I had the students work in pairs, and for the first round of the game I told them to place the numbers anywhere in the grid they wanted as I drew the cards.  While drawing the cards, I could hear them talking about placing the numbers a certain way; they were trying to figure out what the strategy would be.  After the first round, we discussed what strategies they used; many were trying not to place repeats side by side thinking that was a penalty.  In fact, the strategy is to place as many side by side as possible, but I loved hearing about the strategies they were using.  After I showed them Sara’s blog post of the grids and how they are scored, they got really excited for the next round.  I especially enjoyed talking about the slides she had where they had to figure out which placement of a set of 4 tens would yield more points.  Most student pairs had earned anywhere from 20-50 points in the first round, but after we played the 2nd round, their scores ranged from 140-200 points; what a difference.  It was fun to watch them during the 2nd round as they were intent on working together to get adjacent placement of numbers as much as possible.  I did a 1st and 2nd place winner in each class, and they earned a free homework pass to be used during review work at the beginning of the year.  That way if there is a topic they already feel strong in, it gives them some free time.   Here is a picture after we had just finished round 2, and they were calculating their scores.

Because Sara’s blog was up on the projector during the game, they noticed her and asked about her.  I told them that she was probably one of the best math educators in our country, and I believe that to be true.  I also told them behind the name tents that we were working on too; they thought that was really cool!   By doing this, I established myself as a teacher who is also an active learner from other teachers.  They probably know teachers share materials, but seeing it in action from across the country seemed to interest them a lot.   

Also throughout the whole first week, I did name tents for the second year in a row.  This year I included two days for them to ask me questions; one more random, and one about classroom policies/expectations that they still may be wondering about.  It takes a fair amount of time the first week to respond each day, but it is TOTALLY WORTH IT to do this with your students as a tool for getting to know them and letting them know that they are valued as individuals in your classroom.   The question-answer part of the name tents gives students a more private way of communicating with their teacher without having to comment or ask questions during class.  A few students really shared a lot about their extra-curricular involvements, career goals, and interests beyond the scope of questions, and I really enjoyed reading and dialoguing with them!   One student asked if we were going to do this every week.  Unfortunately, time will not allow for that, but I have decided to utilize the name tents more than last year.  One, I am going to use them to set-up groups throughout the semester rather than write names in marker on desks.  Two, I think we will paste in a second page the first week of second semester and do this again.  That way I can do a check in on the class and what is working for them or not, ask them how their holidays were, and because they are juniors, I can start seeing what they are thinking about for post-secondary options.

Lastly, as mentioned in my last blog, I set up a play table/area in my classroom for puzzle and pattern play.  My teacher friends thought it was cool, but my husband and son thought I was nuts!  They did not think juniors in high school would want to “play with blocks”.  Well, right back at them I can say absolutely they do.  The look on my husband’s face when I showed him this picture was priceless!

So yes, big kids do “play with blocks”, enjoy it, and I love that they enjoy doing this in their down time.  Here are some cool patterns that ended up on the table by the end of school on Friday:

All of the above said activities made for a great first week back.  Though I was tired by Friday as usual, I was also very happy and energized; that is a new and wonderful feeling.   Gone are the days of focusing on syllabuses, pre-tests, and “getting started as soon as possible” on course curriculum.  I had slowly lost those items over the most recent years, but I cringe when I remember years when that is what the first days looked like in my classroom.    It is so much more important to take the time to make math fun and get to know my students, and this is not something I will be willing to ever give up again.   I owe many thanks to the network of colleagues I have in the MTBoS who have taught me to see and try new things.  It allows me to be an active teacher learner and provide my students with great experiences in math.  This week was the biggest example of that yet!

One fun thing that happened that I had not planned on was using Elissa Miller’s classroom strategy of  "Two Nice Things”.  A student in pre-calculus called out another student across the room, and immediately Elissa’s rule popped into my mind, and I said immediately “now you have to say two nice things about him!”   It worked!  The kids were immediately on board and agreeing, and the student followed through!  Also, did not hear that happen again the rest of the week –

So you see – the things we learn from each other are always with us, whether we plan to use them or not.  They are in our minds for any moment we may need themJ


  1. Thank you for sharing Tara. I love all the resources and ideas. I wrote a grant for $300 for a play table! Fingers crossed.
    What questions did you ask in your tents?

  2. Thanks Amy! I hope you get the grant for the play table-it is so amazing, and it makes me smile each day when I see what they have created😊

    Questions I asked this week:

    Monday: What was the best thing about your summer?
    Tuesday: what are your favorite activities/topics in math?
    Wednesday: They got to ask me a random question.
    Thursday: what topics have you struggled with before in math? (From this I found many were scared of geometry)
    Friday: I wanted them to be able to ask what rules or expectations they still had questions about that I may not have talked about through the week.

    Hope you have a great first week too!

  3. This is awesome, Tara!!! So glad your first week was so awesome!!!