Friday, June 17, 2011

Day 2

Day two is really my first day of class due to the freshmen class meeting on the first day. When the students come in they'll find a handout with their name on it (to again help them find their desks) with a suggested layout for how they organize their notebooks.

I'll also explain that we will typically start with an "Opener" that they are expected to begin working on by the time the bell rings. (I may have a brief opener this day as well, or the opener might just be explaining how the openers are going to work, I'm not sure yet.)

Then my natural inclination is to jump right into the content. While I value class culture tremendously and I admire teachers who can generate a great discussion on day one (or two), I've never been successful with that. I can barely get my students to talk at all the first couple of weeks of school. So, let me put that part on hold for a bit, then return to it later in this post.

As I mentioned previously, my math department asks students to complete a Math Skills Assessment over the summer. These are prerequisite skills that the math department feels enable students to be successful in Algebra at Arapahoe. Consequently, the first thing we're supposed to do is assess our Algebra students over those skills (a common assessment). Last year my class didn't meet on Tuesdays (Algebra only meets four days a week at my school), so I asked students to review on their own during the two days between the first day where we really didn't meet and our second day (in addition to the review they hopefully did over the summer), then gave the assessment after a very quick opener reviewing the skills.

This year my class meets on Tuesdays (and not on Thursdays), so I think I will devote some class time to reviewing these skills (adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing fractions; adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing integers; and Order of Operations), and then assess on day three. While my "stand and deliver" gut response is to dazzle them with review, my initial thought is to have the students work in groups to develop the review themselves. I've purchased a set of 8 large whiteboards (roughly 24" by 32" from here, thanks to Frank Noschese) to use this year. Last year I grouped students into groups of four (with one or two groups of three to make it work out evenly), and I anticipate doing that again this year (currently 31 students, so probably 7 groups of four and 1 group of 3). I'm thinking of giving them one skill at a time (adding and subtracting fractions; multiplying and dividing fractions; operations with integers; order of operations - may break it down further than that), and asking them to work in their groups to explain the skill. I'd have them use the whiteboards to demonstrate what they know, then pick one or two groups to share with the whole class. (I'd also capture the whiteboard images and post to the class blog.)

I think that sounds okay, but things always take longer than I expect and I'm worried that with 8 groups and only one or two being able to share on each skill that they others will feel like they're wasting their time. So, alternatively, I'm considering giving each group their own skill (probably adding fractions, subtracting fractions, multiplying fractions, dividing fractions, adding integers, subtracting integers, multiplying & dividing integers, and order of operations - to make it work out to 8 groups) and that way each group is responsible for something on their own and reviewing for the entire class. Two concerns with this approach. First, some of those skills are easier (and quicker) than others. Second, I could by chance have a group that's not capable of generating a review on the skill they get.

So, which approach would you favor? Or do you have a different idea altogether?

Now, back to the culture piece. While I still don't feel like I can lead/generate a good discussion this early in the year (and that early in the day - my class of teenagers meets from 7:21 - 8:20 am), I feel like I need to do something to address the culture of our classroom. So I'm considering spending a little time talking with them about my philosophy and thoughts about this class. That's still very much one-sided, just me talking at them, but perhaps it's better than ignoring it altogether (and maybe a few brave souls will join in). Last year it wasn't until about three weeks in that I shared some of that with them and perhaps sharing it sooner will help.

Thoughts on that? Or anyone want to try to convince me of another activity surrounding culture I should try?

The homework for day two would then be to spend as much or as little time as they think they need to review the skills (by using the skills assessment website and/or the whiteboard images captured in class that will be posted to the blog) in preparation for the common assessment on day three.


  1. You could have the skill review set-up as a jigsaw. Each group reviews a skill within then they mix into groups with one person in each the "expert" on that skill to share with that group.

    Since you are setting up an online presence, why not have the class expectations discussion there. Then students can think on what you post and respond to it. You can summarize the online discussion in class a few days later and maybe even make some changes based on student input? What do you think?

  2. @Dvora - I really like the jigsaw idea. My only concern is the time that would take to work through all the different groups.

    I may try the online discussion piece as well. I tried that in a basic way last year (used a Google Form because kids didn't necessarily have their Google Accounts yet), but am considering doing that via the class blog this year.

    Thanks so much for your thoughts - keep 'em coming!

  3. @Karl - I think you could totally run the jigsaw in your 1 hour period. You set the times and give students roles to keep it moving along. Would be happy to share one I did in my science class (hoping for math ones next yr) so you can see how I set it up.

  4. @Karl, i have followed you for several years now and have always grown from your posts and leadership.

    In reference to the review day, when I was teaching a Collaborative Integrated Physics and Chemistry Class, my partner teacher and I used a whiteboard review method/quiz utilizing individual whiteboards.

    Whiteboards were cut from showerboard (sometimes called Melamine) from Home Depot ($10 for a 4'x8' sheet). I cut ours into 1' x 1' squares but later we experimented with 12" x 18" size. We liked the larger ones better for possibility of more info recorded on a board at one time. I also experimented with small ones, pencil box size, for students to right on for quick answers or small calculations. (good explanation of these here:

    You can use different colors of tape on the edges to prevent them from cracking or being damaged as well as utilizing the different colors to create groupings by colors of the border tape. Group by all the same color, group by at least one of each color, put logos on the back, etc.

    Method of Review:
    Post problems on the board, overhead, projector or on a sheet of paper.
    Students work thru a problem showing all the work on the board and circle the answer. Show the board to me at the front of the room or as I walk around the room. I would give them a thumbs up for correct or a thumbs down for incorrect or not complete. If correct, they would move to the next problem. If incorrect, continue to work on the problem to try and get it correct or complete. Show to me again when they think they are correct, repeat the process. Try, evaulate, feedback of right/wrong, try again or move on to next one.

    Have the students work problems in sets of three. When they finish a set, they can help struggling learners around them (peer teaching). You can also have students be approvers as well.

    You may provide different sets of problems to different students or groups of students so that they are not all working the exact same problem set and just trying to copy answers from others.

    It is very easy to find the students who understand as well as identify your struggling learners or even identify concepts or skills that many are struggling with.

    All of the students seem to get very involved with it because they are working on their own and they want to be active in approvals.

    We would use this as a review method right before taking a quiz over a topic. Three to five problems of review that each had to get approval before moving on to the next problem. Once they finished the whiteboard problems, they could get their actual quiz which was pencil and paper.

    Hope this makes sense. If not, feel free to drop me a line at

    PS. One word of advice was to do a quick drawing activity as soon as we got the boards out. They all wanted to draw on the boards We would give them a topic such as the best Jack o Lantern - each would have 1 minute to draw. At the end of the minute, they would show the class, best in class by applause received a DumDum sucker. Quick and easy way to engage them early and them started.

  5. CoachNorm - Thanks for your thoughts. I decided to purchase the larger whiteboards because I'm not very handy and I was worried about sharp edges - they weren't that much more expensive. So I have 8 of the larger boards (1 per group) and I also have access to individual-sized whiteboards (1 per student) should I decide to go in that direction.

    Thanks for the tips on reviewing - I'll be incorporating those strategies into this (and other) lessons.

  6. It sounds like the review and assessment is non-optional, and I think what you have planned is pretty good for that. As for the building of culture and sharing your philosophies, you definitely need to do that, but not with a long soliloquy in the first day or two. Break up your ideas into short pieces, figure out which ones you can demonstrate by example, and spread out the remainder by talking about them over the first few weeks.

  7. Raymond Thanks for this - and all the other comments. I completely agree on the culture and the soliloquy, I'm just frustrated because I don't think I'm particularly good at communicating my philosophy/building that culture.