First Day 2017 – #teach180


Today was the first day with students for the new school year at a new school.

Some changes for this year:

1. I’ve distilled my various incarnations of class rules over the years into a single classroom goal, with a single rule to follow. (This is a barely modified version of an “ah-ha” moment of a class rule that was shared recently, by… someone… that I don’t remember, of course, but thanks for the inspiration!)

Goal: That every person in the classroom would (a) feel safe & (b) learn (myself included).

Rule: Don’t get in the way of any person accomplishing the goal (yourself included).

I love this because it’s ambiguous and infinitely applicable. One thing to remember, covers every situation.

2. I’ve fully gotten rid of any sort of teacher area for good. I want to avoid status issues as much as possible and want the students to feel ownership over the space.

3. The new school is not 1-to-1, so back to paper everything.

Here’s what we did today:

As students came in, I passed out seating cards for the first day of visibly random grouping. This will continue almost every day for at least the next three quarters.

Students filled out an information card with full name, preferred name, preferred pronouns, phone number so I can make intro phone calls (hopefully this year!), “Math makes me feel ___,” and a drawing or story on the back. As they did this, I took first day attendance, as I always do by going around and asking each student their name individually, so I can get preferred names and pronunciations right and have at least talked to every student once (!).

After this, we got into a circle for our first comfort-creating restorative justice session. Just a silly question today – “If you were any item in a grocery store, what would you be and why?” Thanked every one for sharing individually and as a group. Lots of talk about fear, embarrassment and safe sharing here.

Back to the tables for our first-day math activity… (drumroll)… newspaper tube structures! I’ve made it a pedagogical goal of mine this year to focus on building spatial reasoning skills and as part of that, I’m introducing body-scale explorations. This one is from Malke Rosenfeld (@mathinyourfeet) and our conversations at #TMC17. Students had about 15 minutes to “create a free-standing 3D structure.” The goals of this activity were mainly to do some spatial reasoning & let us talk about group work success strategies, which we did in the debrief (“What shapes do you see?” / “What is something interesting another group did that your group did not?” / “What strategies helped your group be successful?”)  It was really interesting to me watching the process and seeing that pyramids were more popular than cubes (the one above is the only one that was free standing) and the topology of the ones that collapsed.

During this, we of course also covered a bunch of routines and procedures as they became necessary.

One admin came in during circles and said, “Oh, they’re already having group therapy in here” before turning and walking back out. Another came in during the activity and was loudly talking to his partner about how much he loved it.

Below is a picture of how to roll the newspaper sheets (just pull the pencil out once it’s started), and what they look like up close, in case you’re interested.






  1. Love your RJ question! I have used “If math were a food, what would it be and why?”
    What instructions did you give for your structures? And how much tape did the students get? Is each tube one sheet of newspaper?

    Thank you for posting!

  2. Thanks, Amy – I’m going to have to try that one!
    My only prompts were to “build a free-standing three-dimensional structure” & “everyone in your group must have a role.” In some classes, students asked clarifying questions about “free-standing” or “three-dimensional,” which I answered. Others asked questions about what they were allowed to do/not do (i.e., cut or bend the tubes). Here I just restated the problem, gave a smile and walked away. It was interesting to see which students took that as a license to explore and which students felt confined.
    I didn’t ration the tape, so each group just got a little tape dispenser of their own (this is where we talked about caring for classroom supplies), and they did fine.
    Each tube was a single full sheet of newspaper. I just threw the half sheets and weekend magazines in the recycling.
    To answer your twitter questions, I settled on 15 minutes of building time & each group got how ever many tubes I could comfortably fit in my hands, but I let them know they could have more if they needed them.
    When I looked at the pile of tubes I had made (about 10-15 papers) I thought there was no way it would be enough, so I “rescued” some of the tubes from the first groups, but it was plenty. Most groups had lots of leftovers.

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