My 26th First Day of School (?!)

I do not remember all of my first days of school, but from pre-school upwards, anticipating the first day of school has always brought feelings of excitement, nervousness, and regret for the end of my summer. For the past 8 years, I have also spent (too much) time planning what I can do on that first day of school to start the year off on just the right note. As I see it, activities on the first day of school could be split into 4 categories: getting to know each other, setting academic expectations, setting behavioral expectations, and getting into the math. When my first day lessons needed to fit into only about 40 minutes, I mostly focused on getting to know each other and setting behavioral expectations, but now that I’ve got up to 90 minutes, I’ve worked on how I can incorporate more math on that first day.

At this point, I’m not sure how all of these pieces will come together yet, but here are some activities that I may include on the first day of school this year.

  1. “About Me” Equations – This activity gives students a little bit of algebra review while also letting them get to know me a little bit. Its also helpful as a glimpse into students’ mathematical background on the first day. (I have done this for several years now and don’t remember where I got this idea.)
  2. Name Tents from Sara VanDerWerf – I’ll have them write their name on one side and then an “about me” equation on the other.
  3. Classroom Expectations – My classroom expectations are that they will be responsible, be respectful and be prepared. In the past, I have done a variety of combinations of individual, partner, small group, and class brainstorming to answer the question “What does it look like to be responsible/respectful/prepared?” I make a compiled list from all of my classes that I post in my classroom. I’m still considering what that brainstorming time will look like for this year (and will also most likely depend on my class sizes).
  4. Our Geometry team has made the decision to start the year off with and use constructions more consistently throughout the year as a teaching tool. I’m thinking on the first day of school that I want them just to get comfortable with the physical act of using a compass. After they have played for a little bit with the compass, I’m going to give them the choice of creating a design of their own choosing or writing their name with only a compass (I haven’t gotten to try this idea out yet, so I’m not sure if that will really work).
  5. I’ve also used these visualization exercises in the past and they do definitely get students thinking geometrically, but for some, the frustration level was a little bit too high. I may use these on the first day of my Geometry Lab (a support class for students who are enrolled in one of my regular Geometry sections), which is smaller and enables me to give more individual/small group attention.
  6. My curiosity was piqued on the Geometry MTBoS forum about first day plans by David Griswold’s description of an activity that leads to writing a definition of a sandwich. I’m still thinking about how I may want to incorporate this.

Obviously this list is a bit too extensive at this point, but I would much rather need to pare it down either as I continue to plan or in the moment rather than be under planned for the first day.


I am continuing to very slowly jump onto the blogging train and an upcoming school year is always a good way to try to get myself into new habits. Over the past several years, I have thought a lot about the ways that schools and districts do corporate professional development and contrasting that against what I seek as an individual for professional development. I have found the MTBoS to be a great resource for my individual needs. I tend to pop in and out around the edges, but have been hesitant to dive in. The recent conversations about #MTBoS versus #iteachmath and #PushSend have been encouraging to me to just put my voice out there and even if no one reads it that the process of reflection for yourself can create the value.

Professional Development Goals:

  1. Actually read the books that are on my bookshelf, including 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions, Good Questions: Great Ways to Differentiate Mathematics Instruction, and How Children Succeed.
  2. Participate in whatever form #geomchat ends up taking. I already posted once in the forum and was excited to read others ideas for the first week of school!
  3. As Geometry team lead, encourage my fellow Geometry teachers to expand their own thinking whether that is through books, Twitter, blogs, etc.

Classroom Teaching Goals:

  1. The AVID conference this summer really encouraged me to think about notes differently. Previously, I would have classified notes as something almost to be avoided, I think largely because giving notes just felt like I was failing to provide students with a more meaningful learning experience. After AVID, my perspective is more that notes are a necessary resource for students, but where my feelings of failure come in is that notes should not generally be the way that students are coming in contact with new material. My goal is to change some of my own perceptions about note-taking, specifically focusing on 1) the timing of the notes, both in terms of length and relationship to new content and 2) help students to know how to use notes as more of a learning resource rather than something that we write down and then lose.
  2. I would like to improve my parent communication. I genuinely do not mind communicating with parents, but I do dislike talking on the phone. I am still thinking about how I can open up those lines of communication without sticking myself with 10 phone calls every night.
  3. The way that I did test corrections last year seemed to discourage students rather than encourage. I want students to learn from their mistakes and truly consider how to become a more active learner, rather than checking a box off for a grade. I have some ideas, but will certainly be thinking about this and discussing this with my Geometry team in the next couple of weeks. (Or maybe on the #geomchat forum?)

I have found that these two areas come together on the MTBoS, both in encouraging me to consider the bigger picture ideas that make up our thoughts as teachers, but also the nitty-gritty details that make up our daily lessons. I look forward to seeing how I can continue to be part of the MTBoS.

My Favorites

I toyed with the idea of starting a blog before. In fact, several years ago, I went so far as to pick out a name and write my first post. Within minutes of publishing, I promptly deleted it. In the past year, I made some changes in my professional goals. I decided to leave the private school that I loved teaching at in order to expand my teaching experience at a much larger public school. As part of that transition, I was seeking professional support when I discovered the MTBoS. While I have primarily stuck to reading posts on Twitter and a variety of blogs, I have often considered what I might have to contribute. It is intimidating to consider what I do that may be unique or worth sharing in any way, but when I read about the MTBoS 2017 Blogging Initiative, I thought, “Why not? Let’s go for it!”

My favorite thing over this past week was an activity that I planned in order to address an area of weakness that another colleague was frustrated with. He was working with students on sketching angle bisectors, perpendicular bisectors, medians, and altitudes within triangles and his students were having a hard time picturing reasonable answers. I was trying to brainstorm ways that students could visually check their answers and the idea of using plastic transparency sheets came to me. So I made up a template of 8 different triangles and gave students directions of which segments to draw (i.e. draw an angle bisector from angle A to segment BC, etc.). When they were done, they got a transparency answer key. They lined up the triangles and were able to see very clearly how close their segments were to mine. I was pleased that I was able to find a way to use transparencies in a different way (since I have never had a classroom with an actual overhead projector) and address a colleague’s concern. He tried it and loved it too!

So this week I got a new favorite idea and I will have to see where else I could try to use it.