Thursday, August 23, 2012

First day of class

This year I feel like a new teacher again. I have been teaching for about 13 years (don't know if my college TAing counts as a full year, but I did do all of the planning, teaching, grading, and assessing so I count it ;), but I have never taught middle school classes. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, this year I will teach 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th grade classes. Additionally, I will be teaching in the IB MYP! I have done DP classes before, but I am super excited about the inquiry part of the MYP and I am going to try to implement A LOT more fun projects and do A LOT less lecturing!

We have a rotating schedule where I see most classes for a double block totalling 80 mins, but I see the a few classes for 40 mins during a couple of our meetings.


My first day activities were stolen from some of my favorite Twitter peeps (even if they don't know it, you guys rock!), Sam Shah @samjshah, Dan Meyer @ddmeyer, and Kate Nowak @k8nowak.
Also, Sam's virtual filing cabinet has a treasure trove of resources that I like to pillage:

So I wanted to start off class getting to know the students so I tried to use Kate's snowball activity:
It totally bombed in my 9th grade class, they didn't even want to go pick up the papers they had so little energy. I really ramped it up for my 6th graders and they loved the throwing part but didn't love the "get to know the other students part". Some of them even cheated by throwing their papers to their friends so they didn't have to meet anyone new to introduce them. I even had one student, a girl, who picked up a boy's paper, found out which one he was, but he said "I don't like girls, so I am not telling you anything about myself". This led to a pretty weak introduction on her part.

Seeing that this activity was not working so much, I modified it for my 7th graders and had them write the same 3 comments but then I collected it. They were read aloud to the class and the class was supposed to guess whose paper it was. This created a lot more energy and I focused on the fact they were allowed to "shout" out the answer.

Activity Time

Following this get to know each other session, we played the "reverse auction game" to dive into the math content for each grade. Some info on this game from Dan Meyer:
and some cool extensions from Patrick Vennebush:

I modified the activity based on 1 of the commenters in Patrick's post and worked on different types of numbers while playing the game.

With 6th graders, I had them choose a positive integer, then an odd integer, then multiples of 3, then prime numbers, then perfect squares.

With 7th graders, I had them choose a positive integer, prime numbers, perfect squares, then perfect cubes.

With the 8th graders, I had them choose positive integers, then prime, then perfect squares, then perfect cubes, then triangular numbers, then back to perfect squares, then we developed the relationship between triangular and square numbers using differences. Using this idea, we then did pentagonal numbers. Continuing with this train of thought I had them make a conjecture about hexagonal numbers.

The 9th graders followed along the same lines as the 8th graders, but we moved to conjecture sooner and began to talk about formulas and general terms of a sequence.

Takeaway from the Activity

The main goal of the activity was to introduce certain types of numbers (while playing the game) to arrive at a point where they didn't know that type of number. (I also think figurate numbers are pretty cool and like to work a lot with them to develop relationships). I wanted the students to feel uncomfortable about their choice of number.

The rule I made was that I would not answer any questions before we played each round. If I a student said "What is a prime number again?"
I would say: "We will talk about it after this round. If you are not sure, just guess."

I wanted to ask them a question where their answer was wrong (unless they were a great guesser) and make them answer in front of the whole class. I told them beforehand that this was part of my goal to help develop a safe learning environment, free from judgement and embarrassment. This worked well because some kids hit that wall sooner than others, but eventually they all did.

This was the most important part of setting up my class environment and going through the game made it a more fun and less stressful environment to be wrong. The best part was we would talk about the type of number after each round, then go back and see which numbers were allowed and determine the winner. Many times, the number that would have won (by being the lowest) was not allowed and we moved on to determine the correct winner. Then, I would play the exact same round again and the students would quickly see that they learned something and were able to apply it.


I really liked the activity and how it accomplished two goals:
1. It setup the classroom environment for the year in a stress-free manner.
2. It allowed me to transition into teaching material quickly, while still "feeling" like a first day of class.

I will definitely try to keep this theme throughout the year and post about how it goes!


  1. I will also be integrating technology into my class this year. I teach algebra 1 (among other things) and I've started some new initiatives this year. You can look at them at I will be watching your blog, please keep us posted on your progress.

  2. Thanks for sharing your first day thoughts. I like conclusion #2, which is one of my goals this year too...get started on good material the first day but still have fun. I'm going to use Dan Meyer's stacking cups activity which he blogged about as a first day activity.