Year 5. Day 1.

Oh my goodness.  It is SO. GOOD. to be back in my classroom teaching.

The first couple days have been great.  I love that half of my classes are students I have had before and already have rapport with.  And then there’s my 6th graders.  Every year I tell myself I’m ready for 6th graders on the first day.  Every year I’m wrong.  But oh how I love them.

My first day this year was pretty similar to what I did last year.  I, like many others in the MTBoS, am using so many ideas from Sara Van Der Werf.  We started with the 100 Numbers Task in all of my classes and ended with name tents.  Depending on the class and how much time we had, in some classes I got to the math talk I had planned and the notice/wonder activity for the set game (6th grade) or Fawn’s Noah’s Ark problem (7/8 grades).

I was so excited, yet nervous, to finally use the version of Sara’s 100 number task that I created just before school started.  You can find that version here.

I used this with my 7th grade class.  This is my second year in a row having these students, and it feel like we picked up right where we left off at the end of last year.  I’ve already found myself smiling numerous times as they’re working so proud of how far they’ve come since last year.

I started by showing them Sara’s version.  We talked about how we used it last year -how group work was important and that there was a pattern.  I told them we were doing a new version this time and there would be expressions instead of numbers.  I gave them an example of the number 8 and asked them to tell me what expressions they might see on the sheet for 8.  They came up with 2 x 4, 4 + 4, etc.  I also briefly reviewed exponents with them before they started.  I told them there was still going to be a pattern, but that it was different than the one last year -they all remembered the pattern from last year.

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We also talked before they started about whether or not this was about being fast.  One student loudly proclaimed, “No!  It’s about teamwork!”  Whether or not he was trying to be a smart aleck, I don’t know, but I went with it and reminded them that math isn’t about being fast.  I was interested to see how well they worked together on this.

Right before I had them start was the most nervous I had been all day.  I so badly wanted this to go well and was worried they would see the page full of expressions and panic.

Again, I shouldn’t doubt this group of students.  They never cease to amaze me.  They dove right in and got to work.


I gave them 5 minutes to work on the task.  It was nowhere near enough time for them to find all of the numbers, but I thought it was a good amount of time for them to find enough to start to see a pattern.


A couple groups noticed the pattern after one round.

I also noticed one group write numbers next to some of the expressions they didn’t yet need as they were looking for other numbers.  I thought this was a great strategy!




100 Numbers Task Version 2

Last year I used Sara Van Der Werf’s 100 Numbers task at the start of the year and LOVED it.  Absolutely loved it!  I can see myself using this in the first week of school for the rest of my career.  You can read Sara’s post here on why and how she uses it with her students.  I can almost guarantee your classroom will look exactly like Sara’s in her blog post.

This activity is awesome!  It has numbers so it seems mathy, even though it really isn’t.  It’s low risk and engages all students –every group ends up being a productive group simply by the nature of the task.  This allows us to have a conversation about what group work should look like in class throughout the entire year.  We’re also able to talk about how math is the study of patterns and that as mathematicians we notice patterns, describe patterns, and generalize patterns.  (I made a poster on that idea.  The blog post is here, and here’s Sara’s post on that topic.)

As I’m starting to put together plans for the first week of school, I plan on using this activity again.  The only problem is one of my classes is a group of students I had last year who have already done the activity.  I still want to review what good group work looks like as well as reiterate that math is the study of patterns, so I still want to do this activity with them again.  I thought about using the same sheet and having students count backwards like I had seen Sara do at a PD session one time.   Then I saw someone post on Twitter about creating different expressions for the numbers.  Brilliant!

I came up with this:

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I kept a pattern, but switched it up a bit from the original version.  If you divide the page into 4 quadrants and start in the upper left and move clockwise around, it goes 2-1-1 and then repeats the 2-1-1 in order to keep the total number of expressions in each quadrant the same.  You can sort of see this below.  The yellow is the first 4 numbers, purple is the next 4, green, and then blue.

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I would LOVE feedback on this.  I like it, but I think there’s room for improvement.  Below are some questions I have.

  • Is it too much?  Too busy?  Obviously the expressions take up more space than a single number so there is more on a page.  Is it too overwhelming?  Would I be better off going up to 50? or 75?
  • I had originally planned on using all operations, but when I finished I ended up only using addition and multiplication.  I decided this was ok because students will only have to focus on two operations, but is even 2 too many?  Would it be better to just have one operation?

I won’t have a chance to try this out with students for a few weeks, but if anyone uses it, I would love to hear how it goes.

Here’s the pdf version of what I made.

Update 8/17:  When I looked at the version I created the next day, I was a bit overwhelmed by all the numbers.  I figured my middle schoolers would likely be overwhelmed by it.  I updated the font and that helped a bit.

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After doing that I also took some of the expressions out and replaced them with the numbers.

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You can download pdf and word versions of both of those here.

Version 3 (Summer 2018 Update)

When I used the version I created last year with students, I found that it was definitely much more challenging than the original version.  I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing at all.  Our conversation after the activity was a bit different.  At first, the students didn’t necessarily feel successful because they remembered doing the activity in the past and knew they had gotten farther.  They were quicker to find the numbers in the original version, so they felt more successful doing that one.  However, this lead into a conversation of how we defined success.  Was success finding all 100 numbers?  Was success working really quickly? OR Was success working together?  Was success not giving up when the task was more challenging than you anticipated?

With that being said, I decided to create a third version of the task that I think we be in between Sara’s original version and the one I created last year.  I have still included some expressions, but there are a lot fewer of them than the version I created last year.  I think the pattern is also easier to see in this version.  It goes top left, bottom right, bottom left, top right, and then starts over.

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I’m not sure how I will incorporate this into the start of the school year yet.  I may use this version first with students and then maybe later on in the week, or partway through the school year, when we need to revisit what good group work looks like, use the version I created last year.  Students ALWAYS ask to do more of these activities.

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You can download all of the versions I’ve created here.

Two of My Favorite First Week Things

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 herehere, 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.