First Day Challenge (cont’d) – The 4 E’s

Hopefully, my challenge pressed you to create a new and unique First Day routine. As I shared in my previous post, I was inspired by the story of the martial art student who claimed that for each good teacher he had in China, all the principles that he would master with them were taught in the very first lesson. So I came up with The 4 E’s of the Math Mission. These are basically my answer to the question “Why should we learn this?”

1. Empower you with fundamental math skills (Skills)
2. Enhance your critical thinking and problem solving (Reasoning)
3. Expose you to mathematical ideas and their related fields (Applications)
4. Enrich your life with a greater appreciation for the power and beauty of mathematics and a deeper understanding of its embedded role in the nature of the universe. (Nature’s Conspiracy)

At the beginning of my first day with the students, I have them take a brief four-question quiz. Each question is headed by and supports one of the 4 E’s above. I have the students take the quiz with the explanation that it is like a movie trailer. Rather than a test on something I hoped they learned last year, the quiz is a  preview of coming attractions. Therefore, I don’t expect them to be able to answer all four questions; however, I do expect them to give an intelligent response. I preach to them that we cannot always give a complete response or even an accurate response, but we can always, always always give an intelligent response. Showing numbers, equations or diagrams is intelligent; leaving the paper blank is not.

The students work independently for a few minutes while I do the normal housekeeping duties, like checking their course schedules and adding students to the roster. Then I have them share ideas with each other. If they like what they see on someone else’s paper, they are free to write it on their own as long as the person explains it to them. “We share; we don’t copy.”

Then comes the time for a whole class discussion. I use this opportunity to inform the students that this process of independent thought, group sharing and class discourse  (think, pair, share) is a normal routine in the class. I point out that the 4 E’s are displayed on the front wall over the board, because this is what I come to work to do each day (my goal). I am not there to get them a good grade (their goal). Of course, if I achieve my goal, they will achieve theirs. So I ask  for volunteers on each of the questions, stressing the appropriate points for each of the 4 E’s :

Empower: There are certain skills that you will learn here, that you can use in everyday life, like calculating distance-rate-time to a long drive or the amount of mix need for the church’s pancake breakfast using the ratio on the side of the box.
Enhance: Just like weight lifting makes you stronger for the rest of your life, some problems we do, not because they have a practical application, but because they actually rewire our brains and make us smarter.
Expose: Part of school’s purpose is to show you what is possible. How do you know that you don’t want to be a rocket scientists until we actually launch one and have you calculate its max height with nothing more than a stop watch and a calculator?
Enrich: There is an age-old philosophical question about whether math is created or discovered by humans. I say both, but this E takes a definite side of the debate. Our daily task in the class is to unveil another “secret of the universe.” For example, the fact that ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter (“how far around divided by how far across”) is always 3.14 something. This is true for all circles in the universe, “Almost like there is a conspiracy.”

The second half of the period is committed to getting to know the students. We start with the first student who stands up, states their name and something interesting about themselves. The statement of interest is really just a stall tactic so that I can review the names that have already been mentioned. After every student has done this, I go back and state all their names. And finish the intros with some brief information about myself.

I close the class by telling them that the order of things today was intentional and symbolic. That the class will be about math first and foremost (not points and homework), and of course, it is each one of them to whom I must teach math, so they are important as well. I reiterate some of the points of the class culture like giving an intelligent response, think-pair-share, and “share, don’t copy.” I hand them the grading policy as they leave. We will discuss each of its points when the time comes. Hopefully, I communicated everything in a dynamic manner so the students are anticipating a fun year full of learning.