This year marks my third at UNCSA and I have never looked forward to, and dreaded, the start of a school year so much. I’ve had the pleasure of staying at home for the past six months since the birth of my daughter. That being said, I am not cut out to be a stay at home mom. I’m not organized enough, I’m not good at keeping my brain engaged and working, and I developed a bad case of cabin fever. So in one way I was REALLY looking forward to the start of the 2016-2017 school year. But I dreaded the start of the year because I have felt behind since August. I didn’t get the lesson planning done during maternity leave I (naively) had promised myself I’d do before my daughter started daycare. I haven’t spent the time I feel that I should at home lesson planning because I’d rather be holding my girl and planing peek-a-boo (do you blame me?). And as luck would have it, she got an upper respiratory infection the week school started, so I’ve spent the past few nights up at all hours rocking her to sleep, which left me no choice but to be highly caffeinated to survive the teaching day. I have never felt so shaky at the beginning of the school year, but I think I did do a few things right (or at least I am calling them a win) from my maternity leave to-do for the 2016-2017 school year:
Get better about learning names:
I used Sara VanDerWerf’s Name Tents to aid in both the learning of my students names, and in getting to know them a little better within the first week of school. It was the best decision I could have made, I may never have to try another way to learn names. It was super awesome to get the chance to have a private conversation with each student. They kids responded to the prompts:
- What do you want me to know about you?
- Give me your 6 word math memoir.
- What’s your favorite thing to do outside of your art area? (I teach at an arts school)
- Doodle me something about yourself and explain the significance.
- What is your most vivid mathematical memory?
My favorite was the doodle, you’d think that in a classroom with a few visual artists and a ton of dancers, musicians, and actors that the kids might be shy on doodling. Nope. I drew them a picture of my stick figure family on the screen with the prompt, so I set the doodle-bar kinda low intentionally to set their minds at ease.
Don’t go Over the Syllabus in Class
Some where along the line, someone told me to go over the syllabus on the first day. That it sets expectations/demonstrates norms/ya-da-ya-da. I hate syllabus day. Even last year’s attempt at making it bearable (each slide had an internet meme and/or GIF), you know the ones:
But it was painful, the kids stopped listening 3 slides in (once I was done talking about my story and started talking about “class rules” kinda things). So I ditched it. My syllabus lives on Canvas, our online learning platform. My students are all sufficiently good enough readers to handle reading it on their own–with the exception of a few ELL students who I made time in the first week to talk to about the syllabus to ensure they were up to speed. So my first night’s HW assignment was to read the syllabus and to take my online Student Information Quiz (in Google Forms format). Students then logged into Canvass and posted three questions they had regarding the syllabus in a discussion forum, and answered one peer’s question. I addressed any further concerns on the second day of class and it took less than 10 minutes. Win!
Focus on Group Dynamics, Not The Math
I know, I know. “You’re supposed to do Math on the first day” to set the tone for the year. Yes, I agree, but I wanted the focus of the first week of my class to be on the group work dynamic so that when we step up the math, they are already comfortable working in groups. The first math problem I did with my students I sawn on Fawn Nguyen’s blog that she got from Don Steward:
The problem was more successful as a day 1 task in my PreCalculus and Advanced Functions and Modeling classes than in my Algebra 1 class. But they all had some pretty stellar math talk going on and eventually (with differing levels of hints) got the final answer. On a related note: America needs to get on board with the metric system.
Day 2 we did a task I first read about in Designing Group Work and Sarah Carter was so kind to provide already made up on her blog: Rainbow Logic. The idea is that the students use strategic questioning to infer the color pattern on a peer’s tic tac toe board. The kids got WAY into it. I should have taken pictures, but several groups were convinced that their facial expressions were giving away information, so they hid behind the file folders I gave them to separate the “game keeper” from the players. We did four rounds of the activity. Three of the rounds were with 3 colors and the last round was with 4 colors. So far my students record for number of questions to get the correct color combination was three.
- They asked for the first row’s colors
- Are there more than two of each color in any given row?
- Is the center color blue?
I didn’t witness the whole thing go down. But I am to understand that there was an educated guess on one square placement that yielded success.
It was a good first week. And it only took me until half way through week two to get around to reflect on it…