First Day Lessons

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 Skittles_Lab 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.
  3. What do they already know about circles and circle graphs?
  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. [07/05/14: Since this post, I’ve started, so there are well over 100 patterns there.]

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.

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