## First Day Lessons

I thought I heard a buzz on Twitter from/to @samjshah about writing a "First Day Lesson" post for newbies. Not completely sure. But I want to write one anyway — hopefully the process will also ward off the usual nightmares that I have during the last week of summer.

I have been doing the same first-day math activities for a few years now. There hasn't been anything on my radar to cause me to change them, but I'm always looking. However, I'm 100% sure I will NOT be going over classroom rules and procedures.

Math 6: Skittles

Here's the handout. I have to tweak this activity to incorporate TinkerPlots — a "dynamic data exploration" software from Key Curriculum that students LOVE to work with!

My intentions and goals for this activity:

1. Learn where these 6th graders are with writing fractions and simplifying them.
2. Let them use tools (compass and straightedge) and technology (TinkerPlots) to represent data.
4. Do they know how to enter fractions into a calculator correctly?
5. How are they responding to transitions from individual work to group work to whole-class discussions?

I see this as a two-period lesson. Students will spend the first hour completing the table and constructing a circle graph. I will give them a very brief introduction to TinkerPlots in the second hour, so students can use the remaining time to play around with the software.

I've also used M&M's instead of Skittles — but definitely give them full-size packages. While this activity lacks any deep mathematics, it's an engaging lesson that allows me to glean some information about students' specific skill sets (including how well they follow oral and written instructions).

Algebra 1: Patterns Poster

I take one of the patterns above and walk the whole class through this process:

1. You're looking at the first three steps of this pattern. Draw what you think step 4 may look like. How many units (circles, toothpicks, or squares depending on the pattern) are there in step 4?
2. Draw step 13. Draw step 50 — rough sketches are okay! Again, how many units are in each of these steps?
3. Make a T-Chart to record "step number" and "units."
4. Write an equation to relate step number s and units u.

Then each student is randomly assigned one of the patterns. I currently have about 20 of these and am always on the lookout for more patterns that are appropriate for 8th graders. Here are two more challenging ones.

I give them 12-by-16 paper to showcase their pattern and related work. We spend two class periods on this, the rest is homework. I've saved most of the kids' work and now have two drawerfuls of these.

I value this activity because we define mathematics as the study of patterns, and the kids learn to write the equations (instead of the other way around). Students must also ask each other for feedback, and although their classmates may see the same pattern differently and come up with seemingly different equations, this is an opportunity for them to learn to simplify equations and recognize that correctly written equations will always boil down to one simplified equation.

Geometry: An Intro to Proof

I can't remember where I got the idea for this lesson. It's a lot of fun.

I ask students if they can figure out how the sequence of numbers is generated. Those who remember Fibonacci numbers from previous years should see it immediately — the first two terms are just random numbers, then subsequent terms are sums of previous two terms.

Using calculators, the kids find the sum of the first sequence (from 1 to 55) to be 143. I ask them to do the same for the 2nd row (from 2 to 212)... Then I say, "Let's have a competition. You and your calculator versus me and my awesome brain. Let's see who can find the sum of each series (row) faster. Ready. Set. Go!" Then I pretend to add the numbers in my head. I let some respectable seconds go by before announcing the correct sum.

My goals for this lesson:

1. Let them know that I'm smarter than they are. (These are 8th graders taking geometry. They think they know everything. That's their first big mistake.)
2. Remind them that I'm smarter than they are.
3. They immediately use a basic algebra skill — writing an equation — on the first day of geometry.
4. Give away leftover Skittles for those who could figure out the sum quickly.
5. Admit to them I'm not smarter, but I am a really hard working teacher whom they should always appreciate!

**********

From the get-go I want my students to know we do math every day in room 15, including the last day of school.

Maybe I'll go over our classroom rules and procedures on Day 2. It should take all of 10 minutes to go over them anyway. (If you need more than 10 minutes, then I think you have too many!)

I also want to start them immediately on the weekly Problem Solving (aka PS — our parents call them PMS, haha, such funny parents we have). I might write a post on this because it's really at the heart of why I love teaching math.

I avoid doing any and all "get-to-know-each-other" activities. Big waste of time. Please don't send me hate mails. I don't do this because we're a small K-8 school; they've known each other since first grade. I think they are bored senseless with one another.

Oh, they're now best friends again? My bad.

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• July 29, 2012 11:46 PM Dan wrote:
Awesome! My students did a similar activity with M&M's last year with a focus on probability instead of degrees and circle graphs. I would like to integrate the circle graph into our activity. Do you have an individual teacher license for TinkerPlots, or a class set?
Good to hear your thoughts on how to begin the school year. Being a new teacher, I probably focused too much on some procedural aspects the past two years. Looking to get them started from Day One this year.
1. July 30, 2012 5:23 PM fawnnguyen wrote:
Hi Dan, we have a 30-computer license for TinkerPlots. I'd always done rules/procedures too on first day until I realized these kids get the same "lecture" all day long. I love it that you're a new teacher and blogging! Yea, us!
• July 30, 2012 6:52 AM Stephanie Ling wrote:
I wish you are teaching Pre Algebra so I can "borrow" your great ideas! :) Like Dan, I did the M&M activity with my 6th graders and focused on fraction/percent/decimal and the circle graph. Unfortunately, food is not allowed in our classrooms anymore....
I really like your pattern activity for Algebra. I am thinking about using it with my Pre Algebra classes, maybe start with easier patterns like the Banquet Tables, flower bed tiles (black & white hexagons), or some other pattern tasks from the MARS archive.

Thanks you for sharing!!
1. July 30, 2012 5:30 PM fawnnguyen wrote:
Yes, there are lots of patterns out there for any grade level, I hope you'll do the activity. I think Pre-Algebra can do the ones I posted here too. I actually did fractions/dec/per too with the M&M's lesson, but to incorporate TinkerPlots, I have to swap out some stuff. I'd be in trouble if we went with no food in class policy. MARS is a great resource! Thanks for commenting, Stephanie.
• July 30, 2012 12:02 PM Sarah wrote:
I am going to start my Algebra classes with something very similar to your Algebra lesson this year. I am so excited to NOT start with procedures and such. Also, the best part of your post was that you aren't doing "get to know you" games. I almost felt like a meanie for not liking them and not doing them. I want to let them know that we do math every day, and that I am going to expect them to think!
1. July 30, 2012 5:35 PM fawnnguyen wrote:
It's always about the kids, so rules and stuff can wait another day or two. This way they might have something to share at dinner time besides, "oh, nothing" when asked how first day of school went. Thank you, Sarah.
• July 30, 2012 4:58 PM Marsha Ratzel wrote:
This pattern finding activity is wonderful. I was just wondering if this doesn't also support learning the idea of functions...especially if you use the table portion of this?
1. July 30, 2012 5:39 PM fawnnguyen wrote:
Hi Marsha, you're absolutely correct, it's totally functions, some are quadratic too. Thank you so much!
• July 30, 2012 7:31 PM Mary wrote:
I love the pattern activity for Algebra I. I just wanted to get your viewpoint on how much guidance to give to students who are having difficulty seeing the patterns. Of course I want students to struggle with it on their own first, but do you give them hints, and if so, at what point do you do this?
1. July 30, 2012 7:52 PM fawnnguyen wrote:
Hi Mary! Yes, definitely let them struggle with it. Most kids are able to see the "next" step/arrangement and fill in the T-chart recursively. Writing the equation is where they begin to struggle. A good 20 minutes is minimum to let them try to figure it out. They don't get to ask me if they got it right, they must ask at least 2 other classmates for feedback. My "hints" are always in the form of a question: "What part(s) of the pattern stays the same? What changes? How is it changing? How did you draw the 50th? How do you know you drew it correctly?... "

Anticipate a few students to reach the equation quickly also, so you want to have more challenging patterns for them to work on. It sets the tone right away that there are lots of "low entry, high exit" problems in math. I may have been accused of many things, but not challenging my students is never one of them . Thank you, Mary.

• July 31, 2012 6:49 AM Sue VanHattum wrote:
I love the algebra activity. Do you have a big poster of that on your wall? Can I get a file to make it?
1. July 31, 2012 10:09 AM fawnnguyen wrote:
I did a cut-and-paste for the post, but I have 2 Word docs that I'll send you, Sue.
1. August 22, 2012 7:20 PM Karlene wrote:
Could I get a copy of your file also? I would love to use this with my kids.
1. August 23, 2012 7:21 AM fawnnguyen wrote:
Sure, Karlene! Thanks for dropping in.
• July 31, 2012 1:28 PM amy zimmer wrote:
Great activity. I usually start with a "four 4's" activity. they have four 4's and any math symbols to come up with the sums, 1-12. They must use all four 4's. We do a few together, then I assign a number to a group. (ex. (4-4) + 4/4 = 1) I love that the conversation about order of ops comes to light, as does grouping symbols, and eventually some very creative mathematics. (4!) depending on how far we get, homework can be to 16, 18, or 20.
would love to hear how you manage problems of the week.

amy in sebastopol, ca
1. July 31, 2012 2:07 PM fawnnguyen wrote:
Thanks, Amy. Four 4's are fun. I have the kids do this in the back of their math journal, so they can always revisit it as time goes on. A few years ago I think it was the Math Forum that was asking for online submission of solutions to four 4's. Found this: http://mathforum.org/ruth/four4s.puzzle.html
• August 5, 2012 8:02 AM Sherrie wrote:
Thanks for sharing such great info on this post. I checked out your book list link and have to say, WOW! I have been spending so much \$ lately on math related books and found several on your list that I would like to order.
1. August 5, 2012 11:10 AM fawnnguyen wrote:
Hi Sherrie! And I just updated the list to include 10 more books that I'd purchased over the summer! There must be a "math books anonymous" group for me to join. It's getting out of control. Thanks so much, Sherrie.
• August 8, 2012 6:37 AM Keisha wrote:
Hi, this sounds like a great activity with the skittles. Do you have the template for the skittles activity! Thanks!!
1. August 8, 2012 12:41 PM fawnnguyen wrote:
Thanks, Keisha. I will email it to you right now
• August 8, 2012 9:15 AM Matt Vaudrey wrote:
Consipder that stolen. I do my syllabus every first day, though I see the logic for waiting. You're making me think, Ms. Nguyen!
1. August 8, 2012 12:55 PM fawnnguyen wrote:
Hey Mr. Vaudrey! What I should really say is how bored I would be if I had to go over rules/procedures all day. We're a small school, so I only really need to go over the stuff (on 2nd day) with my 6th graders. The older kids pretty much know how we roll, maybe just some key reminders. You have a syllabus?! What's that?!
1. August 14, 2012 1:48 PM Matt Vaudrey wrote:
A syllabus? It's a pink piece of paper with my extension on it. It's also a bookmark, a divider, and a great place to put gum.
1. August 15, 2012 6:04 PM fawnnguyen wrote:
Ah, I see I see. I don't chew gum, so I'll use it for the tobacco. I keed!!
• August 8, 2012 6:16 PM Megan Morrison wrote:
Any idea what you could use if you can't use M&Ms/Skittles? :( VERY strict rules....
1. August 10, 2012 2:57 PM fawnnguyen wrote:
But, but... M&M's are the best candies, especially peanut ones! I can't think of another straight substitution where you have different colored quantities to tally and work with. What is important is for kids to do math on the first day, get their feet wet right away. The kids get a lot of "first-day" rules and procedures from all their teachers; and I know it wouldn't kill them (or us) to hold off on this even for just one day. I have lots of other activities that you can do instead. I'll email you some of them next week when I return from vacation. Thanks for dropping in, Megan.
• August 16, 2012 6:26 AM Jennifer Parm wrote:
I really like your Skittles activity. It looks like a fun way to start the year, dusting the cobwebs off of our little cherubs' brains! Can you email me a template of it? Thanks!
1. August 18, 2012 12:18 PM fawnnguyen wrote:
• September 2, 2012 6:21 PM Katie McDaniel wrote:
Love Skittles! Could you email me the template? I would love to do this activity!
Thanks

1. September 3, 2012 9:03 AM fawnnguyen wrote:
Hi Katie! I sent you the Skittles and M&Ms too. Enjoy!
• September 3, 2012 5:09 AM Alisan Royster wrote:
Your visual pattern poster reminds me of the patterns in the book The Pattern and Function Connection. Do you have that one?
1. September 3, 2012 9:16 AM fawnnguyen wrote:
Yes, by Fulton and Lombard! Now that I'm looking at the book, that's exactly where at least half of them are from. I have so many stored up, can't keep track. I took a "visual algebra" class years ago at Portland State; they developed a whole curriculum of GREAT materials (all visual math!) and I think the curriculum is called "math and the mind's eye." That was a treasure trove of stuff and I couldn't afford the whole thing, but I have stuff from that one class. Thanks, Alisan.
• September 22, 2012 8:21 PM Kim Nguyen wrote:
I love all your ideas. Too bad I just happened to find your blogs, but I still want to do the Skittles activity with my 6th graders. Can you please email me the template? Thanks!
1. September 23, 2012 11:20 PM fawnnguyen wrote:
Thanks, Kim, and you've got mail!
• April 16, 2013 3:30 PM Renee wrote:
Hi!
I'm going back to teaching math and science after staying at home with the kiddos for four years, and have been (obsessively) looking at blogs for ideas on teaching and sbg.

I am so happy that I found your blog, and have spent the last night reading through all of your archives! You have so many wonderful ideas and made me more than once get pencil to paper, trying to work out a problem or jot down an idea, or go to another website to look for puzzles/books/ideas. I think I'm almost sad that I only teach one math section, and four science sections, because of how you approach math and having kids work - and struggle - and persist! through problems themselves and with their classmates.

Ok, I will stop rambling now. I feel like I have learned so much from reading your blog, and I have bookmarked so much. I am actually excited now to go back to teaching, so THANK YOU!

PS I would love to do the skittles lab with my 6th grade math class - any chance of getting a copy of the file? Thanks again! Renee
1. April 17, 2013 10:02 AM fawnnguyen wrote:
Oh my goodness, Renee, so wonderful of you to tell me all this. Your comment makes me super happy that doing something that helps me (blogging is synonymous with reflecting!) could help a fellow teacher also. Nguyen-Nguyen, for sure! After 20+ years of teaching, I'm still constantly scouring for lessons from our amazing math community. Every lesson can get better.

So glad you were able to stay home with your kiddos though. Welcome back! THANK YOU for dropping in with your kind words, Renee. (I'm sending you Skittles now. But I'm surprised I didn't include it in my post, so I'm adding it there too. Thanks!)

• April 21, 2013 4:42 AM Tami Redus wrote:
I would love a copy of the skittles template as well. Thanks
1. April 21, 2013 6:07 PM fawnnguyen wrote:
I sent it, Tami. You're welcome and thanks!
• August 12, 2013 6:45 AM mcj wrote:
Hi, I love the Algebra patterns-- brilliant for visualizing. Can you send it to me? Thanks!
1. August 13, 2013 9:59 PM fawnnguyen wrote:
Hi mcj. I started a site called http://visualpatterns.org/ and it currently has 100 patterns on there. Start there? Thanks for dropping in.
• August 14, 2013 1:55 PM Amie Sheffer wrote:
1. August 15, 2013 4:00 PM fawnnguyen wrote:
Hi Amie. I sent you both Skittles and M&M's. Have fun!
• August 18, 2013 6:10 PM Debbie Boden wrote:
Hi Fawn!
I'm reading over blogs of yours in order to steal your stuff! AND when I noticed people are emailing you this year about last years posts... I just had to ask too! May I please also get a copy of the Skittles/m&m worksheets?? Thank you!!
1. August 19, 2013 1:20 PM fawnnguyen wrote:
Of course, Debbie. Thanks for dropping in.
• August 18, 2013 6:42 PM Monique wrote:
Hi Fawn!!!!

Could you please send the Geometry worksheet on Fibonacci numbers? Thank you!!!
1. August 26, 2013 2:10 PM fawnnguyen wrote:
I'm really embarrassed that I forgot all about your request after I looked and couldn't find the lesson on my home computer. I just sent it to you after finding it on my school computer.  Hope you'll have a chance to do it still. Thanks for dropping in, Monique!
• August 19, 2013 6:38 AM Iztchel wrote:
Fawn, I'm a long time fan of yours. I have a few questions about your first day activity. One of your objectives is to see how much they already know about equivalent fractions and circles. On your work sheet you have directions for finding the degrees from a fraction. Do you do that because you want to know how they use the degrees to create a pie chart? I love this activity too. I have done it in probability, but I think it is a better activity for the beginning of the year. Also, would students do this activity on their own or with a partner? Can I borrow it?
1. August 19, 2013 1:31 PM fawnnguyen wrote:
Hi Iztchel, thank you for being fan and telling me that! I've sent you both Skittles and M&M's.

I wanted them to create circle graphs (find degrees) more for construction reasons, if they know how to use compass and protractor. It's an individual assignment, so I can tell who's doing what, but certainly they are encouraged to help each other. And this helps me see this aspect of the class dynamics too.

1. August 19, 2013 1:39 PM Iztchel wrote:
Thanks! i'll let you know how it went in my 6 th grade classrooms.
• September 1, 2013 9:14 AM Jessica wrote:
I love your beginning activity for algebra and geometry - Would you be willing to send me a template of both activities? I love following you...it has been my nerdy outlet all summer and I have learned so much! I can't wait to implement many of your great ideas! Thanks.
1. September 1, 2013 7:22 PM fawnnguyen wrote:
Hi Jessica. Absolutely! Both activities are on their way to your inbox. Thanks so much for you kind words!
• September 3, 2013 2:29 PM Marie wrote:

Thank you so much!
1. September 3, 2013 2:33 PM Marie wrote:
specifically the Geometry and Algebra ones. Thanks!
1. September 3, 2013 9:47 PM fawnnguyen wrote:
Just sent! Thanks for dropping in, Marie.
• September 11, 2013 3:56 PM Jan Smith wrote:
(I will save the nauseating fan mail for a day when you need a boost. It's too early in the year.)

I will make you a deal: if you (please) send me the handout/templates, I will make a Smarties version and send it back to you.

Before you gag and say, "Lady, are you talking about those dry candy pills in a tube? What's the fun in that?", you should know that Smarties in Canada are like M&Ms but cuter and more delicious. Your Smarties are identical to our Rockets. See here for a long-ago post on the topic.

This will be a great way to woo Canadian readers and begin your eventual world domination. Not that we don't have Skittles or M&Ms--again, Smarties are just cuter. Consider this a cross-border collaboration.

What do you think?

Cheers,
Jan
• September 11, 2013 4:35 PM Jan Smith wrote:
Ok, I feel like an idiot. It's at the top of the page and I read right past it. I have indeed converted your worksheet into one for Smarties, which, by the way have eight colours. I am ready to send it to you. Email, please.
1. September 12, 2013 8:00 PM fawnnguyen wrote:
Hi Jan. You're so funny. And I can use the nauseating fan mail any time of the year. Must hoard them for rainy days. (Thank you so much for just saying that!)

Your Smarties are quite different. Glad you thought of using them instead for this activity. Yes, please email me at fawnpnguyen at gmail dot com and I'll be sure to post it here also. Thank you, Jan.

• September 17, 2013 7:52 AM Melissa wrote:
You are a rock star! Love all of the great lessons/ideas! I teach a high ability program to students in grades
1-8 in the areas of math and ELA. I'm always looking for fun, challenging ways to enrich their curriculum. You have some great ideas!

Would you mind sending me your skittles/m&m's and Geometry worksheets on Fibonacci numbers?

I'm still reading old posts, too!!!
Thanks a bunch! Keep rockin'!
1. September 17, 2013 11:05 PM fawnnguyen wrote:
Yes, I feel like a rock. Just a rock. Too tired to move. Thank you though, Melissa. Really appreciate your kind words. I've sent you the files.