In the past, my thoughts on the first week of school have been something along the lines of, “Let’s get through these first few days of class meetings and abnormal schedules, smile a lot despite the chaos and exhaustion, find some mathy thing that you can use to highlight a skill students will need this year, and then once the schedule is as close to normal as it’s going to get, jump into the first unit.” I’ve ended up doing a random assortment of disconnected activities. The activities have been “one and done”. If I wanted to highlight group work, I’d find some activity, use it, and move on to the next thing never returning to the idea of group work.
I cringe at those thoughts now. I’d never thought of doing a “Unit 0” the first week of school with goals to teach students some of the non-math skills they will need to be successful the rest of the year and then follow up with those skills throughout the week with specific activities. Thank you #MTBoS! Sara has several posted first week ideas here, here, and here. Basically just go read Sara’s entire blog right now. I’m serious. She is one of the most intentional teachers I’ve ever met -at least she’s very verbal about sharing her intentions in person and on her blog.
This is what Sara said in this post: “Here is a quick litmus test for you about the potential quality of the task for your students –If someone were to ask you about the item and you can’t talk a lot about why you selected this item – then it probably should not be in your lesson. Good teaching has intention. Student success on the tasks we give requires us to plan. Don’t just take a problem from the book your school assigned you without asking why you are using it.”
After running Sara’s litmus test idea on the first week activities I’ve done in the past, here are two things I can talk a lot about why I use them. They are things I’ve done the first day that I come back to later on in the year that I really love. What I like about these two things is that they are small ways to show my students that I notice them, that I listen to them, and then I follow it up by actually doing something with that information.
Numbers About Me: My first year teaching I used Sarah’s Numbers About Me. At first, my main purpose for it at first was get to know my students, and then it morphed into something more. After collecting them, I typed up students’ responses. About 6-8 weeks into the the school year, I pulled it out and used the information to write word problems. The reactions I got from students were priceless! “Did you know that there’s really a girl in our grade named _________, and she really does have (insert number and noun)?!” “Did you know that (student) really did (insert some accomplishment that involved a number)?!” And “So. I hear there’s a problem about me today.” It’s so fun listening to them as they try to figure out how I knew all that stuff! I think part of the reason they get so excited is that I wait long enough to do this so that they’ve forgotten they gave me the information in the first place. For whatever reason, I usually only do this once. I’ve thought about using each student’s name in a problem throughout the course of the year, but I just haven’t followed through with it yet. Maybe this is the year.
Birthday Treats: My first year teaching I heard a story about one of our middle school students whose birthday was pretty much forgotten at home. When we started homerooms the following year, I decided I wanted to use that as an opportunity to do something for my homeroom kiddos to make sure that at least one adult in their life acknowledged them on their birthday. I got this idea from one of my RAs in college. At the start of the year we filled something out with random information, one of which was our favorite treats. On the morning of your birthday, you got a gift bag outside your door filled with those things. My roommates and I had long forgotten filling out that form and couldn’t figure out how they knew exactly what each person liked. It was spring before we finally figured it out. I thought it was such a great idea, so I decided to do something similar in my homeroom. Students write their name in the middle of an index card and then write their answers to 4 questions in the corners. Two of them are always when is your birthday and what is your favorite treat. Then on their birthday, I bring that in for them. I do half birthdays for students who have summer birthdays. This past year I thought about getting a big box of treats from Sam’s Club so I’d always be ready on their actual birthday because I knew it was likely going to be a struggle to bring treats on their birthdays with everything else I had going on. I mentioned that to a co-worker one day, and his response encouraged me to continue with each student’s favorite treat. That conversation reminded me why I originally did this -to make sure that every one of my students received one of their favorite things for their birthday because someone listened to them and handpicked something out with them in mind. I have less than 30 students in my homeroom, so throughout the course of the year I probably spend around $40 on treats. Seeing students excited over their favorite treat makes the $40 well worth it to me.