First Day in Algebra 1

Day 1 & 2, Thurs Aug 14, 2014

{My school has a special tradition of activities on the first day in order to promote our school motto at Great Oak HS: S.P.I.R.I.T., Scholarship, Passion, Involvement, Reflection, Integrity, Teamwork. Teachers do not officially see their new students until Day 2}


The Drumroll: I have been pondering Carole Dweck‘s Growth Mindset findings, and came up with a couple of vehicles. The first is the Drumroll. I told the students that since this was my only class of the day (I am a math coach in the mornings), I will need their help getting in the right mood for class everyday with the drumroll. It goes like this.

Leader at the Front of the Room (today that was me): “Drumroll, please.”

{students drumroll on the desks);
Leader: “Are you ready to learn?”   

{Leader points as students all hit loudly once on the desk and point back}
Class: “Are you?”

{Everyone fist pumps}
All: “Yes”

The students bought into it more than I anticipated, but they will need some practice coordinating the routine. We will get there. The most important thing was setting the tone that we are going to be about learning in this class.

Opening Quiz on the 6 C’s: I always start every year by answering the transformation question: “How will you (the students) be different in June than you are now, because of my class?” In the past, I answered with the 4 E’s, and structured my Portfolio’s as such. This year, to better align with the Common Core, I answered with the 6 C’s which are the 21st Century 4 C’s and the 4 Smarter Balance claims. Since two overlap, there are only 6. I structured my grade book and my portfolios around these 6 learning categories.

  • Conceptual Understanding & Procedural Fluency
  • Critical Thinking
  • Construction of Models
  • Communication of Reasoning
  • Creativity
  • Collaboration

I gave the students the blank copy of the quiz below, and told them this was not to be graded nor was it a test of their previous knowledge. It was like a movie trailer of things to come, but I still wanted them to give me their best shot. I then gave them my standard 3-response speech.

As a mathematician I cannot always give an accurate response; I can not always give a complete response; I can always, always, always give an intelligent response. Blank is not intelligent.

I pressed them to give me something… numbers, equations, drawings … anything intelligent.

I was waiting for the “I feel stupid comment,” and sure enough I got it. I responded with the “if you made it this far, you are already smart. I am here to make you smartER. As long as you are putting something down on the paper, you are building a wrinkle on the brain.” Then I explained how learning is filling your head with stuff, but making your brain cells reach out and make connections with each other. My new crew responded better than expected for the first day.

Pic Opening Quiz

I posted on the board several of the responses that I saw on the student papers. I shared that these are the 6 C’s of the course. That these 6 things are really what they are here to learn. So I didn’t even answer the questions… that will come later in the course. I just wanted to highlight & explain what the first 4 C’s meant, and the other two would be woven throughout. I said that these things are what mathematicians really do, and that I am paid big bucks to get them all thinking like this in 10 months.

Introductions: I have each student stand up one at a time. They are to briefly state their name and something interesting about themselves. I use the time that they are talking about the point of interest to review the names in the class, so at the end, I can recite all the names in class. 100% this year! I then introduced myself. Good bonding day.

I then shared that the reason that we did math first is because that is what we all about.. learning math … not collecting points. I also assume they can read the grading policy if I gave to them I didn’t have to bore them with it. Since this is the last class of the day, they all thanked me profusely, for that’s much of what they experienced their first day.

Wrinkle Sprinkle: This is another vehicle that I created to promote the Growth Mindset. I explained to the students that when they learn, they don’t just shove stuff in their brain, but that the brain cells actually grow and connect to each. I joked that it was like getting a new wrinkle on the brain, and that we were into growing our brains in this class. Therefore, at the end of each class, we will debrief what we learned and write it on the board… thus a “wrinkle sprinkle.” My favorite for the first day…. “You will make us into mathematicians in ten months.” Yes! Glorious first day.

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