It is customary to start the year by helping the students understand their role as a member of our math community. So customary, in fact, that toward the end of the day, it seems most students have seen 3, 4, or perhaps, 5 different “here are the procedures and policies in my classroom” lectures.
I choose a different approach for two reasons. First, I feel like the students are appreciative of the chance to do… something… anything… other than listen to another description of the classroom policies and procedures (which, aside from late work policies and grade categories, are probably pretty darn similar teacher-to-teacher anyway). And second, there’s only so much value in telling students stuff.
It’s usually better to show them.
My classroom expectations are almost all focused on the effective learning of mathematics and being an effective member of a mathematical learning community. I could lecture them about what this looks like. Or I could let the students group together in teams of 3 or 4, give them a mathematical task, and let them explore. Consider it “Classroom Policies and Procedures LIVE!”
In case you’re curious, these are the expectations for each member of our mathematical community.
1. We stay on task.
2. We seek out the tools that we need.
3. We ask questions instead of quitting.
4. We are responsible for having something to offer to the team, and then our the team to the class community.
5. We make sense of the answers we get, examining if both the answer and the procedure for getting it are reasonable.
If every person in my classes did that, we’d be just fine. Always.
The problem with Day 1 is that you have to be very, VERY careful assuming ANYTHING about the background of the students coming into your classroom. I was fortunate that my ALG 2.0 class was almost entirely made up of students whom I also worked with in geometry. This is rare. In general, I don’t start gaining a real understanding of each group of learners until I’ve watched them explore math tasks the first couple times.
So, this is when you make the entry point to activity as low as you can get it. Up the mathematical intensity only once you are sure everyone is still on the same page. This is when you establish norms. Remind them to get back on task. Require a contribution from each group. Gently ask follow-up questions. Offer the students a variety of resources and then brag on their creative and effective use (even if it is something as simple as using multiple colors to organize work).
Central Park by Desmos is a perfect fit, by the way. As are the activities from the pictures.
It’s important to take advantage of the opportunities given to you as a teacher on Day 1. After all, you never get a second chance at a first impression.
And if Day 1 goes well, when the student’s are shaking off the summer rust, then imagine all the fun we’ll have on Day 2!