First Two Days of School

Tomorrow is the day. I’m excited to meet my new Math 6 students — all 71 of them, two classes of 36 and 35. I should know about half of the 33 Math 8 kids because I taught half of them in 6th grade. Then I get a big break in class size with just 9 students in Geometry. (We’re phasing out tracking, so we do right be these kids and we’re done.)

I have the first two days planned. My mind thinks in terms of conversations, so it’s just easier for me to write in this format.

Day 1

Math 6 (periods 3 and 5)

Hello everyone! Welcome to 6th grade math! I’m Mrs. Win — spelled N-G-U-Y-E-N — I’d be thrilled if you could spell my name correctly because I’ll do the same with your name.

Whatever seat you’re in right now is fine. We’ll have a seating chart by the end of the week; it’s mainly so I can quickly learn your name. Okay, fire drill. It’s the most important procedure I have for first day because you never know, so listen up.

I tell them about the escape route and something about not panicking. Right.

Now I need to take attendance. If I mispronounce your name, I apologize in advance and please correct me. Also, if you go by an entirely different name, please let me know. I once had a student named Anne Marie — her real name — but she went by Bob. Yup, Bob. Reply with a yes or hereNo grunting.

Oh, how many of you have older siblings who had me as their teacher? Yeah? Did they say that I’m really mean? Well, your sister is a liar.

Enough chit chat. Let’s do some math. Please take out a piece of notebook paper. Name and date in upper right hand corner, same as what you’ve been doing for the last 25 years. Write Pattern #2 at the top of your paper.

I show them pattern #2.

You’re seeing the first 4 steps of this pattern. Please draw what you think the next step, step 5, might look like. It doesn’t have to be pretty — just something to show that you know how the pattern is growing.

This might very well be the first time these kids work with a pattern like this. I don’t know. But I’ll guide them through.

Well, what we just did is a warm-up. As we do more, and you get a hang of it, it’ll go faster. By the end of this week, we’ll skip drawing the next step and go right into trying to find the equation. We do a different type of warm-up each day, so on Mondays we do a visual pattern. I’ll tell you what we do on Tuesdays when Tuesday gets here. You’ll need to do tomorrow’s warm-up on that same paper, so let me see you put it away in your binder where you can quickly retrieve it tomorrow. Do it now.

How’s your first day so far?… Good to know. Okay, that’s enough sharing.

I’m passing out a puzzle called Noah’s Ark. I’m willing to bet that in five minutes, it’ll become your favorite puzzle ever. Please follow along as I read it aloud.

Please quietly read it again on your own…

I then ask a few questions to make sure they understand the problem and what it is they are trying to solve.

Okay. I’m going to give you some time to work on this problem quietly by yourself, I think 10 minutes. I’ll set the timer. When the timer goes off, I’ll put you in random small groups of 3 to continue working on the problem. My sincere hope is that I’ve picked the right problem, meaning one that you understand what is given and what is being asked of you, but that it makes you struggle. Oh my God, you have no idea how much I love for you to struggle in this class! You’ll hear me say that word a lot — struggle. It’s all good. You know how after a good workout, your body feels kinda sore? Well, I want your mind to be sore like that.

AND OH!!! This is really really important. Rule #1 for you in my class: DO NOT TELL AN ANSWER. Meaning when you think you have an answer to a problem, please don’t just blurt it out. I know I completely shut down and don’t care to work on the problem any more when somebody does that. So, please, keep your wrong answer to yourself.

I suspect our 55-minute period would end before they even get into small groups. Depends on how long our warm-up takes. (I don’t care if the warm-up takes up the whole period. Initial tasks that are part of the curriculum and norm-building cannot be rushed.)

About 2 minutes before the bell rings…

What’s on this quarter sheet of paper is instruction on how you and your parents can subscribe to the texts that I send out. It’s mostly to remind you of homework. You can only receive texts from me, you cannot reply. You can also receive my “text” message as an email instead. Show it to your parents.

Sadly, there is no homework tonight for math. But you’ll get about 3 hours of math homework tomorrow night, so clear your calendar.  Of course, you’re welcome to continue to work on the Ark problem, but you don’t have to. Remember not to share the answer!

When the bell rings, I need you to be seated and quiet. Please pick up any trash around you and toss it into the trashcan by the door on your way out. Thank you. Have a great day and I’ll see you tomorrow.

Math 8 (period 2)

Having taught half of these kids already in 6th grade will make it easier for me to call them by their name. Same as Math 6, we’ll start immediately with a visual pattern, but pattern #1 for these guys.

Then our math problem is the classic The Proof is in the Pudding.

Geometry (period 1)

I just taught all 9 of these kids last year in Algebra 1. Also, pattern #1. So sure we did this pattern already last year, let’s see what they remember.

They get Using Fibonacci Numbers. I wrote a short blurb here.

Day 2

Math Talks will be our warm-up for Tuesdays. I still need to figure out which of these to ask first — and create a thoughtful sequence. Since I’m only doing one a week, all I need are 40 really good ones.

Then we’ll continue with the problems from wherever we’d left off. I imagine we’ll be in small groups and then on to whole-class sharing and reflecting.

If we have time, I’ll go over everything they need to know about the class — all on one page or I slit my wrist because these are really dry.

image of geometry class


Math 6 and Math 8

So, I think after two days we’ll get these 3 procedures/routines sorta established:

  1. fire drill
  2. warm-up routine
  3. dismissal bell

And I got 1 rule out of the way, even though I’ll remind them of it each and every time we do problem solving:

  1. never tell an answer

Kids forget things you tell them anyway, so I figure it’s better to tell them in context when they need to be doing the stuff.

I stopped having parents sign my rules/procedures handout. It’s not that sacred.

I’ll probably assign textbooks by the end of the week and give them their individual access codes to the online textbook and resources.

I’ve already assigned a Math Forum PoW to each class and will need to give each kid a log in ID and password (it’s rather generic — no one is getting a handout for anything — it’s just “your first initial plus your… plus… “) to allow students access for online submission of their solution.

I’ll update should we end up doing something entirely different like assembling Estes rockets and dissecting fetal pigs. (These were highlights from my science teaching days.)

Don’t forget to tell kids how amazing you are.

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  1. Posted August 25, 2014 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Spoken with the confidence and expertise of an experienced professional! Thanks for sharing!!

    – Bryan

    • Fawn
      Posted August 25, 2014 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

      That’s the nicest way to tell me I’m old, Bryan. I can handle it. :)

  2. Cary Mallon
    Posted August 28, 2014 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Fawn, I noticed you planned to use random groups of 3. Care to comment on why you chose 3 instead of 4?

    • Fawn
      Posted August 28, 2014 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      Hi Cary. From my experience with doing a lot of group work with kids, 3 is a productive group, 4 is a party. :)

    • Posted August 28, 2014 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

      Three typically has a majority vote/argument too.

  3. Annie Adams
    Posted August 30, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Hi Fawn,

    I have a question about how you manage your daily homework. I’m starting class in a week, and I’ve never really liked my hw system. I use CPM, too, but not Core Connections just yet. I found some old ones in a closet when I started teaching and put them into use right away. I like their homework, usually, too. Because there were never answers, though, I created a system of homework checking as the very first thing everyday. Students walk in and talk with each other about their answers with the hopes that they build positive mathematical discussions and questions before I show them the answers to the work. I go around the room while they are talking and check for completion, look for errors, have a chat, etc. Then, I show the answers and students are responsible for asking questions that they couldn’t figure out as a group.

    Anyway, some things I like, but I don’t like how I think this eats into really valuable time for warm ups and how as the year goes on, the students do less and less math talking, more just talking and less answer checking. It takes me longer than I like to go around the room and check the HW. I love doing visual patterns, number talks, and they love them too. So, do I sacrifice the HW check for the warm ups?

    I guess what I’m asking is, how do you check their daily work? I know it’s not graded, but even checking for completion? I am really inspired by everything that you do and just want a little advice.


    • Fawn
      Posted August 30, 2014 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

      Hi Annie. Thank you for the kind words. I have 7 rows of 5 seats in each. The front row person checks the homework (for completion) of everyone in his/her row. I check the front row people’s homework. Front row people let me know who needs to come in at lunch recess to finish their HW. I have a stack of class lists on a strip of paper, so all I do is highlight their names.

      I give them the answers to correct their own HW. Then I go over any question that anyone needs me to go over. It can be “none” on one day and “all of them” on another. Kids who don’t attempt their HW normally never ask me to go over them because they know that my “going over the homework” means I’ll be asking them how they started the problem, how far they got, and if they could tell me how that question is different from what we did together in class…

      I value the math talks (and other warm-ups) that I can’t spend too much time worrying about HW check.

      Of course the HW itself is important — otherwise I wouldn’t have assigned them — but I hope I send my kids a clear message that the only person who’s missing out by not doing HW is oneself.

      • Annie Adams
        Posted September 1, 2014 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

        Cool! Thank you so much! I like the idea of putting the responsibility in the students and I also value the other warm ups so much. I have them in groups, but I still think that I can find a way to make it work.

        I planned on adopting the class lists you made a while ago, and I’m pretty excited about it (I have my different colors of paper set aside, I’m just waiting for the schedule shuffle to settle down).

        Thanks again!

        • Posted September 15, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

          I remember how I spiraled down the primrose path on this one. I even justified my workaholic obsession to check homework by saying to myself (and my now-ex, interestingly), “If it’s worth their doing, it’s worth my grading.” Wrong, wrong, wrong.

          By the last year that I taught, I still gave the homework assignments, but told kids that I would record them for being turned in, and that I would accept evidence of other practice (perhaps a login at had it been invented yet). I told the students to circle any problems that they wanted me to look at. While this didn’t endear me to an increasingly bubble-oriented brass, it increased rather than decreased homework turn-in rate.

  4. Cara
    Posted September 2, 2014 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    I did your first day activities (Noah’s Ark and The Proof is in the Pudding) today on the first day of school. The students are hooked!

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Corey
    Posted May 12, 2015 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    What activities due you do on Thursday for fun facts? Thanks for all the guidance and laughs while I read your posts and tweets.

  6. Ms. R-P
    Posted June 8, 2016 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    This is such a helpful post (as are many of yours) – thank you for breaking down your first days’ routines. I am already excited to try them in August! I am just finishing my very first year of teaching and have been struggling with (among other things) the CPM curriculum in 48 minute periods (with Wednesdays being 32 minute “minimum days” – why even come to school?!). Enriching warm ups and math talks have been hard to work in to the schedule.

    • Ms. R-P
      Posted June 8, 2016 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

      Also love your syllabus! Mine was way too complicated this year – overthought everything.

  7. Laura
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    Hi Fawn! I love your ideas! I can’t get the Noah’s Ark link to work. Is there a way for me to view that activity? Thank you so much!

  8. Cindy Lawrence
    Posted May 1, 2018 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    I am having problem accessing Noah’s Ark Task

10 Trackbacks

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