Episode #36: How To Start The School Year Off Right

Aug 5, 2019 | Podcast | 1 comment


Summer vacation is soon coming to a close. If you’re like us, you’ve been thinking about that first day for that last week or so. You’ve prepared activities, organized classrooms, laminated everything you can get our hands on, and scrounged the internet for the best deal on dry-erase markers. School is back in and we want to dedicate this episode to the first day of class. 

We’re sharing our go-to activities and strategies to start the school year off right so you can help inspire curiosity, build trust & support, and paint students a picture of what class will look like regularly. 

Start your school year off right by downloading the guide that you can save and print to share with colleagues during your next staff meeting, professional learning community meeting or just for your own reference!


Download a PDF version| Listen, read, export in our reader


Jon Orr: Oh boy. Summer vacation is soon coming to a close. And if you’re like us, you’ve been thinking about that first day for the last week or so. You prepared activities, organized classrooms, laminated everything you can get your hands on, scrounged the internet for the best deal on dry erase markers. School is back in, and we want to dedicate this episode to the first day of class.

Kyle Pearce: We are sharing our go to activities and strategies to start the school year off right. That help you inspire curiosity, build trust and support for your students, and paint them a picture of what your math class will look regularly. We’ve got a jam packed resource rich episode for you today to help you get going on day one and beyond. But before we get into it, let’s hit it. Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast. I’m Kyle Pearce.

Jon Orr: And I’m Jon Orr. We are two math teachers who together.

Kyle Pearce: With you, the community of educators worldwide who want to build and deliver math lessons that spark engagement.

Jon Orr: Fuel learning, and ignite teacher action.

Kyle Pearce: John, I am super excited for this episode. It’s just you and me and we get to chat about the start of the school year. What do you think about that?

Jon Orr: Oh yeah, I’m pumped. I am pumped because the school year start day is for you and us and everybody out there. It’s like we’re on edge a little bit. We’re a little bit nervous. You’re a little bit excited. It’s a great day. But before we get into those first day activities, we want to announce that the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast is excited to bring you another giveaway. This time with Wipebook, our source for Wipebook Flipcharts. That’s right. You can easily post white boards anywhere in your room and easily bring them with you on the go to. Wipebook is offering you the math [inaudible 00:02:21] community, the chance to win one of five flip chart packs. Plus a special 50% discount on flip chart packs for everyone who enters the giveaway. You can get in on the giveaway by visiting makemathmoments.com/giveaway by Wednesday, August 28th, 2019.

Kyle Pearce: Listening after Wednesday, August 28th, 2019? No sweat. We are always actively running giveaways, so check out makemathmoments.com/giveaway to learn about the current giveaway that we are running.

Jon Orr: Don’t miss out. Dive in at makemathmoments.com/giveaway.

Kyle Pearce: That’s makemathmoments.com/giveaway. One last thing we want to do before we dive in is say hello to [ElleShaw917 00:03:09] who left us a fantastic five star review on iTunes. Elle Shaw says, “Philosophy on point. I accidentally started this podcast with episode 14, but I’m glad I did because I learned that we share the same philosophy on math education. I then went back to episode one and I’m excited to listen to the entire series. I have so many questions and comments, but we’ll hold them until I’m finished listening. Thank you guys so much for creating this. I’ve been searching and wanting or waiting it says for a math education series podcast that resonates with me in my hopes for a better, more curious math classroom. You’ve done it.”

Kyle Pearce: Thank you so much to Elle Shaw for leaving this review on iTunes. These are so helpful for us to reach a larger audience, so do us a huge favor. And whatever podcast platform you’re on, go ahead and rate the podcast as well as leave us a review so we can reach that wider audience and make more math moments that matter for students.

Jon Orr: Awesome stuff. All right. Let’s dive into Our first day activities and talking about what we should be doing on the first day and what that first day could look. Before we get into all of the things and the resource rich stuff that we’re going to share with you today, let’s talk about what we used to do at the start of the school year. Kyle, what did you do to start off day one? Think back to old Kyle. Kyle before he started to make those changes to inspire students on curiosity and fuels students’ sense making and think about teacher moves. Kyle, what did you do on day one in the old school?

Kyle Pearce: Well, anyone who’s listened to the podcast before knows that I’m an open book when it comes to how I taught for a good chunk of my career. And my first day would probably sound a lot what I experienced as well as probably what a lot of other people have probably experienced and maybe even are doing currently. And we’re coming from secondary as well from high school. So in the high school classroom, oftentimes that first day I could not imagine being a student on the first day of school in high school. Where they go class to class and in many cases it’s maybe a small activity, but most of the time it’s first thing you get is that syllabus. It’s all of those pieces of the course and the content that you’re going to be covering. Even says how many days is going to be committed to every piece of content as well as how your assessment and evaluation weighting are going to be aligned. Tests are going to be worth this and quizzes are going to be worth that and final exam and projects, all of those things. And then I would dive right into rules and procedures. I would actually get to here’s how things are going to work in this class. You got to do it.

Kyle Pearce: It’s almost like when you go to a, I brought my kids to this place called Springs, it’s like a trampoline place. And at the beginning they get there and they sort of lay them out the rules of what they can and can’t do because of safety and all of those things. But even at Springs, they managed to do it within two minutes. But yet for me as a high school teacher, I would stretch these rules and procedures hitting every single tiny detail of what may happen in the class. Even if it might only happen I don’t know, two months from now. It was like I made sure to cover it because I wanted to have all my bases covered. It made me feel comfortable. It made me feel confident.

Kyle Pearce: And basically, we were sending this message to students, “Hey listen, you are in my math class. And Mr. Pearce isn’t going to put up with any sort of mischievous behavior. I’m not going to put up with lates. If you’re late, here’s what’s going to happen.” And I would lay all these things out trying to be as transparent as possible, trying to do a good job. It wasn’t like I was intending to bore kids.

Kyle Pearce: But at the end of the day, what we realized or what I realized over time was that first day really set sort of a, I don’t want to necessarily say it was a negative tone, but it was definitely a flat tone. Right? Kids weren’t leaving my class on the first day of school going home and saying, “Wow, I can’t wait for math class.” I would try to make it funny. That was one thing I would do. I’d throw some jokes in so kids got to know my personality a little bit, which is fine. But at the end of the day, I don’t really think kids were busting out of their classroom doors and saying, “Wow, I can’t wait to get back in there tomorrow to do some more math learning.” John. Does any of that relate to what you were doing on the first day of school?

Jon Orr: For sure. Almost identical. But what you were doing is like you said, you’re painting the picture to that student of what that is going to look every day for the next semester or next year. What you’re doing is you’re showing them without, you might be saying this is how class is going to run. But they’re also getting that mental image of this is the way it’s actually going to be every day. The teacher is going to deliver the important information and we’re going to hear, listen, and ask questions, take notes. And that’s what you are doing on day one when you go through the syllabus, right? You’re kind of giving that important information. You’re throwing it out there. “Hey kids, what questions do you have right now? And then I can help you with that.” And then it’s probably what I used to do, Kyle adding to that is depending on the class, I’d get into work.

Jon Orr: And you know what that question kids are having. Like are we going to do any math today? After I deliver all those rules and procedures and when is it appropriate to go to the bathroom and when is it not? I would be like, “Okay, let’s get into reviewing concepts from the last year.” So it would be like I would give a lesson. I’d be like let’s dive right in and do a lesson on grade eight stuff or grade nine stuff depending on the class I taught. I would want to get right to the content as quickly as possible. So we were painting a picture of what class would look.

Jon Orr: And I’m thinking I equate now, and we wanted to kind of move towards what we do now and give you some of those resources. Which is what this episode is all about. But sometimes, we want to equate what that looks in the business world. There’s a lot of new ideas coming out on when you get hired to a job for the first time, your first day of work. And if you think about that first day of work in a business setting or in any kind of job, maybe not teaching. Because your first day of work of teaching, you’re jumping into the classroom right away. But if you had a job that was not teaching beforehand, think about what the first day of work looked like.

Jon Orr: Some companies, you come in and you’re waiting to talk to the boss or you meet your supervisor. And it could be a while. They’re going to go through the list of things that you can and can’t do right off the bat. Or maybe you have a week of orientation where you’re in class. A classroom setting, doing the same type of thing. It could also be you’re worried about who you’re going to eat lunch with. Think about how inclusive some of those first days might look versus what some companies are doing now. We read a book recently by Simon Sinek called Leaders Eat Last. And in that book he describes that onboarding process. If you’re going to be a great leader in a work environment, you want your employees coming in painting a picture of what that work environment’s going to look. They’re waiting for the boss and they’re being told the rules and the procedures. They’re basically told all the how. How is it going to look that day? How are you going to do your job? And Simon Sinek talks about let’s switch that to why. Why are we here? Why are you going to be inspired to work at this place every day? And employees are welcomed.

Jon Orr: I think lots of businesses have these whole first day setups planned out from start to end to show the employees and inspire them on why they’re there and kind of win them over and give them a glimpse of you’ve made the right decision. You’ve come to work here, and you’re going to be inspired. You’re going to inspire other people. You’re going to be working in collaborative environments. It’s your first day should be, “Wow, I’m so happy I made this decision to come work here.”

Jon Orr: And we want that same thing to be with our students we want them to, not because they’ve made a decision to be in class because. They probably didn’t. They have to be there. But you want them walking out going, “I viewed math class a certain way all the way up to this moment. And wow, I think this is actually going to be different. I think I’m in the right place.” I’m not going to be like, “Oh man, here’s another math class.” I don’t want my students thinking that anymore. I want them to be like, “I’m reborn.” You know? I want them to think that all of their past math experiences up to this moment. It shaped who they are and what they believe about math class. But at that moment, I want to help them see that math doesn’t have to be exactly like it was before if they had a terrible experience. I want to build their trust, we want to inspire them with curiosity, and we want to paint them a picture for the first day of class. That’s kind of what we want to share here as our big idea in this episode, right Kyle? We want to do these three things, inspire curiosity on day one, build student trust and support them and tell them about support. And paint them a picture of what that first day should look.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah, absolutely. I think you did a great job John, talking about starting with the why and then dealing with the what. And again that’s a Simon Sinek statement. He also has another book called Start with Why. So again, diving into some of these same ideas from Leaders Eat Last except the Leaders Eat Last book really goes into this idea of how to be a true leader. And actually, I’ve taken that advice from Leaders Eat Last where at every workshop that we run. And John, you know that I’m a stickler for this. I will not go into that line to take food until every single person in the place has grabbed their food. So sometimes, I get not the best pickings of the lunch. And that’s just what leaders are supposed to do. And that’s the way things are in the Navy. I think it was the Navy they had referenced or Simon Sinek had referenced in that book about how the lieutenants, the captains, the leaders actually eat last. They make sure that all of their people are taken care of first, and then they take care of themselves. And that really is something that I’m trying to become more aware of. And that’s one place that I’ve at least started.

Kyle Pearce: So starting with the why and then dealing with the what. The trouble that we have. I think just it’s a human nature thing where we just assume everyone believes what we believe, right? So it’s really easy for us to come in on day one and just suddenly teach the what. Tell the kids what we’re going to be doing. Because we all assume it’s like well of course you know why you’re here. You’re here to learn math. We’re here because you need to do this or that, or the next thing. But the difference is that every single teacher has different beliefs. Some are only slight, but some are very, very large and vast. When we think about the different beliefs that we can all have about what it means to learn mathematics especially in school, what we’re actually doing here in order to get kids ready supposedly for that next step in their learning journey.

Kyle Pearce: So again, we really want students, we want to build their trust. Because without trust, if we don’t make that nonthreatening classroom environment apparent to students and making sure that they all feel like this is an inclusive environment so that every student in that classroom feels like this is where they belong, then really nothing else we do is going to matter. So if we really focus on that first day, those are probably the biggest ones for me is how do I make sure that students know that I am not just here because I have to be here. It’s because I want to be here, and I want them to be here.

Kyle Pearce: John, you’ve mentioned it on the podcast a number of times. Even just things loosening up on students are absent, especially students who are constantly absent. We used to come down on those students. We would be like no, on the first day we set this procedure. And we said if you miss this, this would happen. Or if this happened then that would happen. Well for some students, that just doesn’t work. And we can try our best to try to help bring them into that sort of mold or that idea of what we think will be helpful for them to be as effective or as successful as possible in our class. But we have to make sure that they feel we want them to be there. So those are big ones for us.

Kyle Pearce: John, what are some things on the first day that might help us with sort of moving away from just these rules and procedures? Because that was something I would do. Literally list the rules and procedures. If you do this, then that will happen. If you do this, then this will happen. What are some other things that we might consider doing at least on the first day? And I guess a mindset about how do we build in the procedures because we obviously don’t want class to just be sort of willy nilly. Students can do whatever they want and whenever they want. We do need some procedures and rules in place, we’d like to call them norms. I feel like norms is a little bit more of a softer sound to those things. But when should those be coming out? Is that something we do right when we walk in the door or right before the first day ends? Or when do you try to build in these sort of norms throughout your classroom?

Jon Orr: Yeah, and I think there’s a phrase to Kyle that some teachers have used, and I think I’ve used before too. It’s that phrase, you’re not supposed to smile till Christmas time. You’d always say that because you’d say we got to make sure that we are hard on day one and that we set the boundaries, and we set the limits. And we’re not wishy washy because the kids will walk all over us. And there’s some truth to some of that too because we’re not saying that we’re not wishy washy or we don’t want to set some limits and set some boundaries because we definitely do. But I think it’s just how we do that is the difference that we used to do. Before we just say day one, we’re doing all this stuff and here’s the procedures of what class will look like. But what we want to share here today is kind of activities that we get into right off the bat. And to answer your question Kyle, we could get through say parts of the syllabus at different times.

Jon Orr: And it doesn’t all have to be dealt with on day one. And we are big fans of jumping into activities right off the bat. That’s what we want to share with you here today. Because if you jump into the activities right off the bat, some of these things from your syllabus will come out on day one. Some will come out on day two. Some will come out the following week. When you want to talk about who goes to the bathroom, well you talk about that when someone asks to go to the bathroom. It doesn’t have to be all laid out on day one. If you want to talk about what a test or quiz or assessment is going to look like, you could talk about that when that comes up. The actual formalities. The actual techniques or mechanics around what it will actually look like and sound like on close to those days. It doesn’t all have to be done on day one.

Jon Orr: So the don’t smile till Christmas part is that we’re not being wishy washy. We want to show students on day one what math is about. And for us, we want to paint them that picture. We want to show them that we’re here for support, we want to talk about we’re here for math class and it’s about growth. And we want to set firm limits and expectations on that day. And we can do that through activities and not say just our words.

Jon Orr: And part of it is we want to set the bar high. We want them to rise to that level. And we want to show them that they can get there. So it’s about changing their beliefs. It’s about saying we’re going to be supportive. And we can do all of that with action. We can do all of that through activities themselves.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah, great points there John. I couldn’t agree more that instead of taking all of those ideas. Just imagine this. You’re a student, you come in. Or let’s pretend that you’re a teacher coming to a new district and you sit down on day one. And a superintendent standing there. And for the entire 75 minutes that you’re in this meeting, the superintendent is just telling you all the rules of the district. Sure. Because it’s your job. You’re probably going to be frantically writing things down and highlighting and doing all kinds of things. At the end of the day, you’re probably going to walk out of there and you’re probably not going to be super inspired. If anything, you might actually be a little bit scared. Like oh man, there’s a lot of rules and things that I don’t want to do. It’s essentially kind of stopping you in your tracks. You almost don’t want to do anything because if you do something, you might do something wrong.

Kyle Pearce: And we don’t want students to come into our class thinking wow, there are 50 rules that I just heard. And I don’t even remember them. So imagine if I talk about the bathroom procedure and then I give five more procedures. Well guess what, the bathroom procedure isn’t learned. Now it’s just stated, and now it’s almost like you’ve put them in a position where if they don’t follow that procedure, now they’re wrong. We’re putting them in a bad spot. So like you said, I like this idea of allowing them to kind of come out when we need to.

Kyle Pearce: Something that I always sort of address as sometimes students will ask this question. Typically, this would be probably near the end of this first day, but they might ask about assessment and valuation. We’ll talk about that as well. Because I think getting into an activity where kids can actually get up, do some collaboration, and essentially get their curiosity sparked so that they can see what it feels to do some learning in this type of environment is really key.

Kyle Pearce: And for me, there’s two ways you can go. You can dive straight into a really exciting math activity, which I think is great. Or it might be something that isn’t necessarily math specific. One that I’ll give here, and I’m not suggesting we’re putting this first because you should or have to do this. But one that I have used in the past, I don’t use it every year. Typically I do this more with my older students, especially students who are grade 11 and 12 and are heading into university. I want them to understand how the brain works. So at the beginning of the year, this first day, what I’ve done in the past is I would have them remember a list of items. I would essentially tell them I’m going to ensure that every single one of you in this room memorize a list of items, 10 items in total that are all unrelated. And I don’t tell them much more than that. We just dive in. And they’re sort of intrigued. Some kids are like, “I can’t remember more than three things at a time.” All of these things, right?

Kyle Pearce: So kids’ beliefs are now coming out to the forefront and I can see who’s like okay, you’re a memorizer over there. You’re like, “Yeah, I’m pretty confident. I bet you I could memorize this list.” Over here this student is like, “No I can’t memorize anything.” Right? They’re beating themselves up over. It gives me a little bit of a diagnostic to understand their own beliefs of themself and their abilities, and their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to things memorization.

Kyle Pearce: And the intent here, it’s actually using the peg system. So we’ll put a link to an article. It’s not necessarily the article that inspired me to do this. I actually saw a gentleman, I was on a vacation somewhere. And he actually did this with our group of about 500 people. And I was fascinated. I was early in my teaching career and basically he said, “Yeah, I’m going to help you memorize this list of 10 items.” The idea was like I’ll help you remember your grocery list without having to write anything down. I was just fascinated. So I went in, and it was fantastic. And the idea is he uses this thing called the peg system where you essentially peg items with ideas and mnemonics. So he would make this list of one to 10, and he would have a rhyming word that goes with each numbers. So one, the rhyming word is gun. Two is shoe, three is tree, and so on and so forth. So you’d have this list of 10. You could go beyond 10. He has strategies for that as well. But we just do it with 10.

Kyle Pearce: And the idea was I would help them with this list by helping them paint a picture in their mind. By visualizing the item in the list related to the peg word. So for example, for one gun, the idea was cruise ship. All right? So in their mind we would say okay, so you’re picturing we’d say one gun. And we’d say okay, so visualize this gun. And it’s this giant gun. You look at this gun and all of a sudden the gun points at you and you can see right down the barrel of that gun. And all of a sudden what comes out of the end of that gun. The kids are like, “A cruise ship.” And you’re like, “Yes. Can everyone visualize that? Shut your eyes and visualize that.” And through this visualization and association of associating the cruise ship with a gun, and then with shoe it was diamonds. It was like you’re pitching this beautiful brand new pair of shoes. What’s your favorite color? You picture that color. Great. And you know what’s right on the end of this shoe is diamonds, these huge group of diamonds. Can you picture it?

Kyle Pearce: So it was all about association. And at the end, every kid in the class, even those students who say I can’t memorize anything. They’re saying, “Wow, I know this list of 10 items.” Here’s the consolidation, here’s the fuel sense making part of this activity. I’m not trying to tell kids that math is going to be about memorization. What I’m telling them is that our brains, the way they work is through association and connections. And we just connected completely unrelated things together through visualization. The beauty of math is you don’t even have to do that, because things in math are already connected. They’re already associated, but only if we understand how it works. So that’s where the conceptual understanding comes in.

Kyle Pearce: So we have this talk about memorization versus automaticity. The one through 10 list we just did, we memorized those and we made connections. We made fake connections in order to help us remember them. Whereas in math class, we could do something that’s more automaticity. And we’ll attach a cheat sheet to this episode. I have a memorization versus automaticity cheat cheat. That’s great for helping especially parents understand the difference between memorizing say math facts and automaticity where I know my math facts, but I also know how they all interrelate and how I can modify and work within them. So for me, that activity is such a great way to not only get beliefs out on the table to see what kids believe about their own abilities. But then we also get to actually teach them a little bit about how the brain works and the beauty of how our brains are wired to learn mathematics because those connections and associations are already sitting there on a platter for us.

Kyle Pearce: I really liked that because I think when your students are coming into math class, they’ve imagined that math class always done this a certain way. And that’s just the way math class is done. And I like that you’re starting with we’re not necessarily talking about how math class is going to change, but you’re talking about how their brain works so that when you do talk about how math class is going to change about the difference between memorization and automaticity, that they can understand that. And that’s the reasoning behind why some of these changes are going to happen from their past experiences. And I think that’s great because you are talking about why. Kind of re-acquainted back to that business onboarding process of showing up to your job to talk about why you’re there and why we want to inspire instead of the how. So that’s great.

Jon Orr: Similar to that, that I do to talk about why and some of them are math beliefs. I’ve got two that I use on a regular basis. And one we’ve talked about here in the podcast before. Actually when Dan Finkel was on, he talked about a simple game, the game of Nim. And if you’ve been in any of our live workshops, there’s a lot of times that we start off that workshop with playing the game of Nim. Which is a simple game. And I’ll explain it here and I’ll talk about how I’ve done it with my class. The game actually works like this. You have to imagine, or you can have sticks or any sort of objects. And we start with say 21 objects in a pile. And you take turns between one and two players. And you can take between one and three sticks out of the pile. So one, two, or three. And when it’s your turn. And then your opponent will also have that exact same choice. And the winner of the game is the person that takes the last stick or group of sticks from the pile. So you take turns taking sticks from the pile and whoever wins takes that last stick. So we’ve played this, I say in our live workshop. But with my students, I’ll play that on day one. And I’ll put $5 down on the table on day one.

Jon Orr: I’ll say, “You know what, let’s play a game. I am actually the world champion at this game. And if anyone here beats me at this game, I will give them the $5.” So we play this game and take one or two or three sticks from the pile. And then I end up winning the game. And I keep my money. And why I win the money is because there is a winning strategy to this game. I’ll let you think about the winning strategy. I’m not going to spoil it here for you yet. So what I do at that point is I just play the game with one student and now I asked them to go to the wall space. So around the room I have vertical wall whiteboards set up around the room. I usually have about enough in the room for one whiteboard between one and three kids, or sorry, two and three kids could be working at a board. And I have them play the game with the partner in a group of three. And I have them experience that. But I give them the challenge of, “I want you to think about the moves that I made to win the game. What are important moves? What are not important moves? When does it become important?” I’m trying to encourage them to discover the winning strategy here.

Jon Orr: So there’s a little bit of curiosity, but when I’m kind of talking about or getting them to think about how we can fuel their sense-making on that game. So they go to the boards and they play this game. And then after one or two games, they play. We talk about if there’s anyone have a winning strategy. So after they play that game a few times, we summarize the winning strategy. Usually, some students will bring out that four as an important number to hit because if you hit four, then there’s not much that person can do to take the last stick.

Jon Orr: So why we play that game is because like you talked about Kyle, that we have a discussion about the beliefs of why we’re learning math class. Because I share that game with my students the same way I’ve shared here on the podcast and also in our live workshop that when I think about playing that game. There is if that person the teacher at the front, like me. No one could take five bucks from me because I knew the winning strategy. I knew all the moves that the kids were going to make. It doesn’t matter what moves they made. I was always going to win that game because I knew the winning strategy. And the student who was playing that game first trying to win my $5 didn’t know the winning strategy or I assume they didn’t know the winning strategy. And they were making moves blindly. They were kind of like I’m not sure if I should take one stick out of the pile yet, or two sticks or three sticks. I’m not sure because it’s too far away from the end to see how that’s going to play out. So they’re kind of making blind moves early on. And I share with my students.

Jon Orr: So that’s kind of like how math class has been in the past. That there’s the teacher who knows all the moves that the kids need to make in order to be successful. And the teacher knows all the moves that they need to make, the teacher themselves to help the students be successful. And the students kind of don’t see that big picture. They don’t see how things are all tied together. I don’t see how that’s going to play out. So the students are kind of blindly following the rules or blindly find the procedures in math class, hoping that there is a good outcome in the end. Just kind of like the game. And if you know the winning strategy, you can win the game.

Jon Orr: So we talk about knowing the why behind stuff instead of just following procedures blindly. And that helps our students kind of see that why just kind of like you’re helping your students see that why Kyle.

Kyle Pearce: I love this opportunity. Not only you had mentioned curiosity and getting them to fueling their sense-making. But throughout that, being super explicit about our beliefs of how we’re going to learn math class. We aren’t just going to tell you answers. It would have been so easy. Some people think and they say, “Well I don’t have enough time to do some of these things. That’s why I give kids this note and I just tell them everything.” And the reality is is that nobody cares when they’re told. If we just showed them the game and then we didn’t give them any time to play or to think about it and actually investigate it or inquire. They don’t care about the rule. We could tell them the rule. And just like we could tell you the rule on the podcast right now, it’s actually, we could do it in one sentence. I don’t want to say it’s simple because there’s some complexity in order to discover it, but then it’s super simple once you understand it.

Kyle Pearce: And that’s just the whole point is that we don’t want to actually tell kids about it because they’re not going to be interested. The curiosity is then dead. And even in our live workshop as well as our online workshop, our workshop that we’ll be relaunching here this coming September. In that workshop, we could just tell people the answer and sometimes people want you to, right? You get people saying, “Okay come on. Just tell me.” But that takes away all of the enjoyment. The purpose of doing it is now gone. It wouldn’t be interesting at all. So I find that really interesting. So that’s a great one. Starting off with some sort of game that helps with the mathematical thinking. How about the next one here, John? You’ve got another one that’s a really good way too.

Kyle Pearce: We talked about kind of diagnostics. For me, I was about memory and what kids believe they’re capable of in terms of their thinking of how their brains work. You had game of Nim which also gives you a little bit of, it helps you see which kids are willing to investigate and which ones sort of give up pretty quickly. Which many times in math class a lot of students tend to have that sort of the give up ness. They don’t have that grit that we’re looking for and that’s something for us to consider. How else can we uncover some of the beliefs about mathematics on this first day so that we know our students and we can actually start framing lessons around that to help shift that into more of a productive belief?

Jon Orr: I think you bring up a good point here too that the activities that we’re suggesting, also they give you a glimpse of while you watching the students and how they perform through these activities. You’re getting a glimpse of how they are. What their beliefs are, what the resilience is. And you’re also going to see that some math concepts do come out of here. You’ll get a glimpse of how they’re going to do or what math concepts and stuff they bring with them to the classroom. So you are assessing right off the bat by watching them, and you understand so much more about your students when they’re doing the activities than say just giving them the rules of the class and the syllabus for the day.

Jon Orr: So this other one that I like to do, and I’ve been doing this every semester since I started teaching. And I learned it when I was in teacher’s college. My professor did that for us on our day one, and I’ve really enjoyed it and I’ve liked it. So this one is, it’s a very simple idea. You can do it on piece of paper or I usually have them do it on the inside of a name tent so that I can read them later. Then I like to hand them back later at the end of the year, the last day of the year.

Jon Orr: So it’s simple. You just have them complete the phrase math is like. So I write math is like on the board and I write dot dot dot. And then I say you complete this phrase. But it is best done with a word like math is like and then say one thing like math is like. And then you have to write one sentence after that. So the example I usually give to my students is math is like a roller coaster. Sometimes there’s ups, sometimes there’s downs, sometimes it makes you feel sick. But you’ll make it back to the gate usually. So I give that to my students as an example and then they come up with their own. I say it can be positive, it can be negative. I want you to say what you feel math is like. I give them some time to think about them and a tip is write down what you think first and then figure out the sentence after. So here’s a couple that my students have written over the years.

Jon Orr: Math is like tying your shoes. For the first time it’s hard but you’ll get it soon. Or math is like a pen. It clicks. Math is like steak. It’s best when it’s well done. Math is like a sport. The more you practice, the more rewarding it is. Math is like soup, everything builds to make the right taste. Or math is like riding a unicycle, juggling three monkeys while playing a harmonica and balancing a can of paint on your head. You have no idea what you’re doing and why, and you’re probably going to make a fool of yourself doing it. Or math is like wrestling. No matter win or lose, you’ll still get punched in the face to get there.

Jon Orr: So when students write these, you’re going to get a variety of different beliefs of what they think math is like. And we share them out. For any who would like to share them out. I know it’s not a mandatory that you have to read these out loud. We usually get a chuckle out of them, but then we definitely talk about that we all have different beliefs on what math is like. And part of this year we’ll be thinking about changing that. We were hope that some of these change over the time if they’re negative. Because some of them will be negative, some of them will be positive. So it’s a way for you to understand where the students are coming from and how they’re feeling about math before you get going. So I love that.

Jon Orr: And then like I said, on the very last day of class, I keep them. And the very last day of class I hand them back and have them comment on if they’ve changed their minds or not, or if they feel the same. So it’s a great way to end the year too is have them rethink about math is like, and create a new one. So that’s one that I’ve been doing every year, every semester since I’ve started teaching. And I think it’s a great one to include on your very first day. It doesn’t take very long either, but it does set the stage for you to talk about beliefs.

Kyle Pearce: That’s fantastic. I love to, even being able to take one or two or you know maybe a handful of them assuming the students are comfortable with it. And being able to kind of build off of some of them. One that caught my ear right away was the one around tying shoes. You had mentioned it’s hard at first and then it’s something along the lines of it’s sort of just becomes automatic over time. And I use tying shoes as a great example for kids to understand too. That in math, we want to build that fluency where we can kind of do things without having to really think about them. But the one thing that we don’t ever want to lose is the how we got there. And that’s an example I use because I am one of those kids. One of those kids, I’m no longer a kid. I might think a kid.

Kyle Pearce: But when I tie my shoes and you might be like me. I memorized how to tie my shoelaces. I didn’t understand anything. I was in Cub Scouts and all those things, but I was never one who was really good with visualizing knots and things like that. And I tie my shoes. If I lose a spot or one little thing goes array, I have to go to the beginning and start over. And we don’t want that to be math for the kids in your class. We don’t want them to be like, “Oh geez, I got to go back to step one and follow this list of steps,” where there’s no ability for them to be flexible within there.

Kyle Pearce: So I feel like those responses kids give are a great way to kind of continue that discussion in the classroom to kind of … it’s not like in day one you’re going to be able to shift kids’ beliefs. This is going to be something that’s going to take you all year to help kids shift their beliefs through the actions and through what we do in our classroom. But one thing that we can do is we can take what they’re saying. And we can agree, show that we hear them. And then also try to kind of be really explicit about our own beliefs as the teacher. I want kids to know what I believe math to be. And they probably aren’t going to care about it too much if I just sit there and tell them for, and do a big soliloquy about it. If I relate my beliefs to what they’re telling me their beliefs are, then they get to know me a little bit better and they start to see wow, this particular math teacher believes this, this, and that. And maybe that resonates with them, maybe it doesn’t. But at least they know me and we’re building that trust. So I really like that.

Kyle Pearce: And then right after that activity or something like it where you’re bringing beliefs to the table and you’re trying to learn more about your students and you’re letting them learn more about you. It sounds for you and I John, this is something you and I are very consistent with is getting into a task. And we’re not handing out the syllabus and we know you’d probably have to hand out a syllabus at some point in that first week. But that first day, we want to get into a math activity. And we’re not doing like okay friends, we’re going to review fractions or we’re going to review something from the previous year. We’re going to get into a problem solving task. And for us, nothing better than picking something like a three act math task or like something from Jo Boaler’s Week of Inspirational Math. There’s tons of great stuff out there. We’re not going to tell you what tasks to do.

Kyle Pearce: But I know for me personally. Some tasks I’ve used, I typically switch them up year to year. Whichever task is kind of like I’m curious about and I’m excited to try. But I’ve used counting candies before. We’ll put these links in the resources. Doritos roulette is a really fun one, and it really helps you understand which kids are thinking additively and which kids are thinking multiplicatively. And being able to kind of see what they are bringing to the table without it being this formal assessment or review. And I know John, a big one for you on the first day is R2D2. Are there any other ones that on the first day you find a really good hits with kids because they have such a low floor, high ceiling, and are super curious? Right? We want to make sure that first one is super curious so that kids are like, “Wow, this is actually going to be interesting this year to learn about math.”

Jon Orr: Yeah, I do R2D2 task with my ninth graders when we’re getting into talking to start off. Because like you said, it’s a low floor, high ceiling task. It helps to set the norms for the classroom. We want to create that inclusivity. We want to show them that we’re valuing curiosity, struggle, and growth. So it’s a great one for me to do. I do that with my ninth graders. Here are the couple others that I’ve tried in other grades fun.

Jon Orr: Like [inaudible 00:40:45], I’ve learned it from [inaudible 00:40:45] anyway, which is a Noah’s Ark problem. Again, we’re going to put all the links into the show notes so you can see what we’re talking about here and access these. But [inaudible 00:40:54] Noah’s Ark problem shows a whole bunch of different animals and they have to get on the arc, but the arc has to be, it can’t be tipped over one way or the other. So it has to balance out on both sides to keep it balanced. So there’s elephants on one side and also horses, and other animals. And it’s kind of like each line has to balance and you have to figure out what a seal weighs I believe. What is the equivalent to a seal weight.

Jon Orr: So it’s like getting at this idea as a teacher, you know this is getting at the idea of a system of equations and balancing. But it looks so complex to start. And what I love about [inaudible 00:41:29] resources too is that there’s a page that comes with it. And you could cut out all the little polar bears, and you can move them around. So you can get that balancing of making sure things are on both sides. I really love that task because you can have it in groups so that the students are working together, which is what we want to show on day one too is that math class is going to be collaborative.

Jon Orr: Peter Liljedahl, I’ve seen it on his site. He has a number of great activities that geared towards this thinking classroom. So working together in groups, working vertically at the whiteboards around the room. I believe Kyle correctly, is this task is also in Jo Boaler’s week of inspirational math, which is the four fours problem. Which has always been a big one on day one. That using only fours in any operations you like, start to create all the numbers. How can you represent one using only fours, and different operations? And two and then three, and then how far can you go. Peter’s site I believe has can you do it up to 30, and then I believe that you can keep going. Represent all the numbers up to 100 using the four fours, or how high can you represent numbers using the four fours? I believe that’s also in Jo Boaler’s, right Kyle?

Kyle Pearce: Yup, absolutely. And that Jo Boaler link that we will share. We’d say it’s a Jo Boaler link. It’s the youcubed link. So she has a team at youcubed, but obviously everyone listening is probably very well aware of Jo Boaler and her being on the episode number 10 with us. Definitely check out that. Her resources started as a week of inspirational math and now it’s weeks of inspirational math because they’ve sort of built it out from there. And definitely some great things to pick. And I’m hoping people are getting the sense that we’re not saying day one has to look this way or that way or the next thing. It’s just I think the big piece for us coming back to what is the big idea that you want kids. Essentially your learning goal for day number one. It’s a big one because we’re setting the tone for the entire year. And I used to have nightmares the day before school. I’d say I wouldn’t sleep because I’d wake up and it was like my kids were running the class and I had no control, and they were throwing things at me. And all of these horrible things that our brains plant into our minds. And they were showing in my sleep.

Kyle Pearce: Now, what I realize is no. When I start this year off in such a positive way, it eliminates so many of those things that I was so fearful of early in my career, right? Like losing control or what do I do when a kid does this? And those are all things you got to be thinking about, and you have to have what are you going to do when those things happen? Because regardless of whether I set a procedure and tell them upfront, or whether I’m helping address them as they come up in the first couple of weeks, at the end of the day it’s like you do need to be thinking about it and figure out what am I going to do if and when those things happen. But also, doing it in such a way that it doesn’t undermine all of the other things that I’ve tried to instill in my students within that first day, that first week, that first month.

Kyle Pearce: So this is a big deal. The first day of school is a big deal. And I think if we shift our thinking and our mindset to focusing more on building that mindset or that we’ll call it the beliefs, those productive beliefs in math class. Helping kids build a trust, they know and they know that you want them to be there with them and that you care about their success in math class. It’s so much harder for a student, even that student who traditionally has been a behavior issue, maybe has a behavior plan or has a lot of things going on at home. It’s like man, the best cure. We’re not saying it cures all, but the best cure for that is showing kids that you care, right? Especially when they try to test you.

Kyle Pearce: And a lot of times those kids first day of school, they’re going to try to test you right away and they’re going to try to see if you’re like all the rest. And in their mind they’re thinking all the rest that don’t care about me. Even though all those other teachers cared. I’m not saying they didn’t, we’re all trying our best here. But it’s like how can I respond to make sure that that student knows that okay, this student’s testing me right now and this is a big test. Because what I do here and how I respond is going to really influence not only that student’s response the rest of the year, but also the class takes that, right? And they see that and they go, “Oh okay, so you said all these other things about your beliefs and how you know you care and all these things, but then this just happens.” So those are things for us to think about.

Kyle Pearce: So for me it’s like pick those tasks that are going to help you get to that end goal of building trust, helping kids see what your beliefs are as a math educator. What matters to you? Does speed matter to you? Does memorizing steps and one way to get there matter to you? If those things matter to you, then right away you’re telling certain kids that yeah, this is probably not going to be a great place for you. But if it’s like man, we learn from failure here. There’s multiple strategies to get there. That all strategies are valid strategies and that I’m going to help try to push your strategies to the next place in your own individual learning journey, not where the class is as a whole. Those are really, really important things for us to pull out. And the best way for us to do that is learning about kids and then also engaging in some problem solving. Sparking that curiosity right away.

Jon Orr: When we talk about creating this culture of you are as a teacher are showing what you believe. We just talked about that, but what else are we doing to structure our classroom to help students understand that collaborative environments are going to be used on a regular basis, or how are our students going to be shown that they need to value each other’s opinions and discussions? And Kyle, what are you doing to help do that? What are you doing in your classroom? Or what can we be doing in our classroom to show kids that we’re going to be working with each other and setting up that collaborative environment? Because we know that students, if they feel comfortable in the room with each other. Not only just the teacher, right? They have to feel comfortable with each other so that they can flourish because there’s no way that that student can flourish and share their thinking if they do not know the person sitting beside them or feel comfortable with that person sitting beside them. So Kyle, what do you think is a good strategy and technique to help facilitate that?

Kyle Pearce: Yeah, I’m so glad I was all ready to wrap up there John. And I’m so happy that you brought this up because I completely forgot to mention it. But this is something that we don’t want to wait too long in the school year before we start getting kids working collaboratively. So when we do get into a problem solving situation that first day, helping kids to get up and out of their comfort zone. Because what better time than on the first day of school where no kids are super comfortable unless by chance their best friend or a good group, their inner group of friends that they hang out with afterschool or on the weekends. That might happen where they’re in your class, but in many cases that doesn’t happen that way.

Kyle Pearce: And they come to class, they’re sitting down next to some random people. And it’s like okay. And then throughout that class, they start to build a little bit of comfort. And then the longer that they just come to class and sit next to those people, it’s like they get into that comfort zone where now it’s like I don’t want to ever be in a position where I’m not next to the people I’m normally next to. Whether you use a seating plan or not, or whatever you choose to do in that regard. That builds a bit of a comfort zone where students might not be as open to collaborating with different people in the class. So we’re big on doing the visible random grouping.

Kyle Pearce: This is something that Peter Liljedahl has some research pieces and white papers on. We’ll add some links to the show notes about that. For me, I did it pretty basic. The key was is when kids came in to class, how do we help them know that I haven’t preset the groups? And I want to be clear here because there are certain scenarios where grouping by where students are, I don’t even want to say ability. Because it’s not about ability. It’s about where they are in their mathematical journey. For small group instruction, absolutely. If you’re going to be sitting with a group of students, it’s a great idea to get a couple of kids that are in a similar place. That also means if I’m doing small group instruction, that I’m not just working with students who are struggling the same group all the time. That I’m actually giving some of that attention to all students in the class.

Kyle Pearce: And I can do that to help move those students forward. But when we’re problem solving, this means we haven’t pre-taught all the rules, steps, and procedures. Which means a student who typically is pretty strong in your class and a student who’s not as strong. They’re on the same playing field when they get access to these tasks. And if you’re following the curiosity path, something that we’ve highlighted a number of times in the first few episodes as well as our episode, I think it was number 20. I think it might’ve been 19, episode 19 where we talk about our four strategies for helping students start problems and stick with them.

Kyle Pearce: The curiosity path has elements in it that ensures that you can’t have a student who’s more, we’ll call it a higher achiever in your class go ahead and solve the whole problem. They’re going to have to actually work through this together. So get them into random groups.

Kyle Pearce: And one way, I did pretty low hanging fruit. I just took a deck of cards and if I wanted groups of three, I had my three twos, my three threes, my three fours, my three aces and so on. And I would have them in a pile. Kids would come into class, they’d pick a random card out of my hands. So they knew they were the one picking, it wasn’t me picking. And that’s where they would go and that’s where they would hang out for the day. So now, it’s forcing them to kind of build and do a little bit of icebreakers the first week of school with different groups and different kids in the class so they could collaborate on problems together. And that is a great way for them while they’re already a little bit nervous, they’re already not set into a super comfortable situation. Get them up, get them learning with different kids in the class so that they can build trust with one another. So we not only want kids to trust us and us to trust them, but we want them to trust each other. And this is such a great way.

Kyle Pearce: John, I know that you’ve kind of extended the grouping cards situation from just regular playing cards, and you actually have something that you’ve created and you use, and many people have downloaded from your website and I’m sure you’ll put in the show notes. Tell us more about those.

Jon Orr: Yeah, we created a set of cards that you can do multiple different groups. But also on the fly, reshuffle those groups without having to grab all the cards and then redistribute the cards. That was kind of the primary reason that we built this kind of deck of cards, because we were primarily just using playing cards to regroup the students or group students. But these have kind of three to four different ways that you can group students. There are small little cards that you can print out and laminate and distribute around the room. So you can get those. We’ll put them, my website, we’ll definitely put a link down below how you can get a copy of those cards. So like all of the resources we’ve been sharing here today, you can get to the show notes page and grab the links for all of this stuff. And we’ve got a ton of links that we probably can’t even get to Kyle. So we’ll just add those to the show notes page. So not only the links that we’ve discussed here already, you can get there, but we will have more. So for example there’s a couple of more I just mentioned, but you can go there and look.

Jon Orr: Another resource is I created 30 days in a row of one minute videos for my classroom. So you can see what the first 30 days looked like from my classroom last year. One minute clips of me talking about what that day looked like. So you can go there and have a look at 30 days in a row. We were going to put a link to the Marbleslides challenge from Sean Sweeney, which is super awesome challenges for graphing run through Desmos. So Sean Sweeney has put together Marbleslides challenges. I use this on day one to give out to my students and it’s ongoing all year as a set of challenges. The link we’re going to share here today is from Sarah [Vanderwerff 00:53:25]. She does name tents, which helps you build the trust factor in your room because she has a sheet that you can attach to your name tent or print out on your name tent so that students can ask the teacher questions and you can respond. So it’s kind of like a dialogue that you can have with your students that helps build trust in your room. So we’ll put some of those links and more on the show notes page. Kyle, are you ready to wrap up?

Kyle Pearce: I think we are. That was awesome. Also, I just want to mention that I sent this question out to some folks in the Facebook group, the Math Moment Makers K through 12 Facebook group. We have lots of really cool ones come back. A lot of people replying and saying follow because they’re obviously interested in learning about what other people are doing. So definitely get into the Facebook group and check that out. There’s a post there. Like for example, [Mickey Gibbs 00:54:18] says that they do things to know, it sounds like zoom through just a few things, some details about the class. But then they dive right into a would you rather, so that’s wouldyourathermath.com. That’s a John Stevens resource. Super cool. The one that she is recommending is the Cheez-Its one. So she has that in the Facebook group. So we’ll link to that as well.

Kyle Pearce: [Mindy Green 00:54:42] recommends the broken circles task from Sarah Carter, and has included, and John will include the link both in that Facebook group as well as in the show notes page. So lots of stuff going on there. Head to Facebook, and then just search for Math Moment Makers. And you’ll see our Facebook group. We have I don’t know, 12, 1,300 people in that group now. Lots of people doing some sharing there, which is awesome.

Kyle Pearce: The other thing that I’ll mention is that in the show notes, we’ll have some downloadable cheat sheets as well. So for example, I mentioned the automaticity verse memorization cheat sheet. So there’s lots and lots of resources. So be sure to check out the show notes page for this particular episode, which is episode 36. So that’s makemathmoments.com/episode36. John, let’s wrap this thing up.

Jon Orr: You got it. So all the resources that we shared here today and the ideas on the first day can be summarized up into kind of three big things that Kyle and I think about all the way through our courses and our classes. And especially on the first day we want to share with our students. And that is trying to inspire curiosity right from the get go and talk about beliefs that everyone can do math regardless of the past. So we shared some activities to help you do that. We’ve shared some activities on how you can build trust in your classroom, because collaboration and mathematical discourse are valuable to learning math at a deeper level. Building trust is also great for showing students that you support them and how that can be shown through your assessment and evaluations policies. All of that is done with painting them a picture, right? We want to paint them a picture on day one of what class will look regularly. Are you painting them a picture of what your class will look regularly on the first day, or are you doing something different? So we want to make sure that you are painting them a picture of what it should look.

Kyle Pearce: Awesome, awesome. So those sound three big ideas. And again, if those are front of mind as you plan that first day, that first week, and then the next thing you know you’ll be midway through the school year and you’re going to be living and breathing these things as core pieces. Core beliefs in what math class is all about.

Kyle Pearce: So as we’re recording this, it’s summertime for John and I. But very soon we’ll be back in school ready to rock. I know some of our U.S. friends are already gearing up. Some might already be back in school setting up classrooms and so on and so forth. If you’re looking for a place to build on these ideas and build on the beliefs and all of the different pieces that John and I are really, really pitching in this particular podcast series. Where we spark curiosity in our students. We fuel sense-making and we ignite our next moves for each and every lesson. We do have our online workshop launching first week of October. I think we’re going to start actually registration in September. So you could check that out at makemathmoments.com/onlineworkshop. That’s makemathmoments.com/onlineworkshop. And also we have an ongoing Academy. Many of the people who take the online workshop want to continue diving into these ideas so they stick with us in our ongoing Academy. That’s makemathmoments.com/academy where you can learn more about that. You don’t have to do the workshop to dive into the Academy. However, with the timing being that the workshop is about to launch again. We do feel like that’s your best way to get fully emerged. And then we continue that community inside of the academy. So hopefully we’ll see some more of our friends inside of the workshop coming up this fall.

Jon Orr: Awesome job, Kyle. Awesome job. As always, how will you reflect on what you’ve heard from this episode? Have you written ideas down, drawn a sketch note, sent out a tweet, called a colleague? Be sure to engage in some sort of reflection to ensure the learning you’ve had here is sticking.

Kyle Pearce: And while you’re at it, head over to the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast giveaway. Also, the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast is excited to bring you another giveaway. The last time, we had the [inaudible 00:59:01] book giveaway. This time it’s with Wipebook. The great friends Toby and Frank at Wipebook are offering some flip charts up for grab. That is right. You can easily post whiteboards anywhere in your room, and easily bring them with you. If you’re like John and I who are doing workshops all over the place.

Kyle Pearce: Wipebook is offering you, the Math Moment Maker community, the chance to win one of five flip chart packs. Plus, if you don’t want to chance it, they’re giving you a 50% off discount on flip chart packs for everyone who enters the giveaway. So once you enter the giveaway, you’ll gain access to how you can actually take advantage of that 50% off discount. You can get in on this giveaway and take advantage of the discount if you so choose by visiting makemathmoments.com/giveaway by Wednesday, August 28th, 2019.

Jon Orr: If you’re listening after Wednesday, August 28, 2019, don’t worry about it. We are always actively running giveaways. So check out makemathmoments.com/giveaway to learn about the current giveaway we have running.

Kyle Pearce: Don’t miss out. Dive in at makemathmoments.com/giveaway.

Jon Orr: That’s makemathmoments.com/giveaway.

Kyle Pearce: In order to ensure you don’t miss out on new episodes as they come out each week, be sure to subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcast platform. And also, if you’re liking what you’re hearing, please share the podcast with a colleague and help us reach an even wider audience by leaving us a review on iTunes. And tweet us your biggest takeaway by tagging @MakeMathMoments on Twitter.

Jon Orr: Show notes and links to resources from this episode can be found at makemathmoments.com/episode36. Again, that is makemathmoments.com/episode36.

Kyle Pearce: Well, until next time, I’m Kyle Pearce.

Jon Orr: And I’m John Orr.

Kyle Pearce: High fives for us.

Jon Orr: And high fives for you.



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1 Comment

  1. Chris Yu

    Such an awesome episode!



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  4. Episode #90: What First Day Of School Activities Should I Use? - A Math Mentoring Moment - Make Math Moments - […] How To Start The School Year Off Right / Episode 36 […]
  5. Episode #87 How To Teach My Class When Students Are Underprepared - A Math Mentoring Moment - Make Math Moments - […] Episode #36: How To Start The School Year Off Right […]

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