Maybe because the summer was so meteorologically pleasant. Maybe because the windows to the lovely new classroom [which I am privileged to teach in] only open 6 inches at the bottom per NYC Department of Education building code. Maybe because the 75-year-old school building went from having a handful of people in it to having 4,000. Maybe because I’d rather be on a lake in Vermont any time.
The start of school felt particularly painful to me this year for any one of the above reasons. Yesterday at the conclusion of what will probably be the easiest day this term (the periods were only 25 minutes long), I couldn’t see straight. Actually, I’m pretty sure it was the heat and humidity. But at the time, I felt like I had lost my classroom mojo, and wasn’t even sure where to look for it. I envisioned myself barely scraping through the remaining 160+ days of the school year.
I came home, hydrated and cleansed myself, and began to go through the feedback name tents from my students. And, predictably, their voices, in the form of their calligraphy and questions, cheered me. Several students asked my age (one sly student asked when I graduated from high school), one asked what my favorite ice cream flavor was, and another asked where I shopped for earrings. But most of the questions fell into two categories, which speak to what all students would like to know at the start of a class – ‘What is expected of me in this class?’ and ‘Will I be able to do it?’ I answered over 100 questions, but the task actually cheered me – I teach because I love math and students (several asked that question as well). The exercise heartened me for Day 2, which was actually quite awesome, although equally sweaty.
The theme of the Geometry classes was Communication. We opened with the Pick-a-Point activity lifted from Dan Meyer’s video, and expanded the discussion to include selections using lines (thank you, Quadrant Dan!). Interestingly, the students didn’t use the letters in the second screen – at least not specifically. For example, one student said, “It’s the point between A and X.” I loved their willingness to keep up the challenge.
We then moved on to a Talking Points activity. I was quite nervous about this; I’ve read several blog posts (Cheesemonkey, for example) since Twitter Math Camp about this, trying to envision how the activity works in real time, and practiced – in my mind – how to break down the big ideas and directions. I have to thank Amy Fine over at It’s Fine in the Middle; her clear description of how she ran the activity in her classroom helped me tremendously. So this morning, even in the swampy morning heat, I took the plunge, and the kids did me proud. Everyone participated, and they adhered to the No Comment rule without prompting. I’ve had many of these students before (this is an off-track/repeater course), and it is gratifying to see their personal growth. And when we were finished and shared out, lovely Brianna hit the nail on the head – “You can hear better what people say because you aren’t trying to talk.”
The class finished with Back-to-Back drawings, an activity in which one student describes a picture to another, who has to draw it purely from their description. I think having just completed a listening activity contributed to the success of this exercise. Here are some of the results – and I know the students who were drawing didn’t peek!
Algebra 2 was equally enjoyable, albeit sweatier (these classes were in the afternoon). I used a lesson plan that I had written for a class in graduate school, but never implemented; I came across it while cleaning off my desk before the start of school. After a quick review of the Real Number System (and hinting that there were other numbers which were outside it), we held the Rational Number Challenge. First, students in teams of 4 were given a list of 20 numbers in all different formats – fractions, decimals, words, constants – and had to order them from least to greatest. The winning team received one free homework pass (they thought this was FABULOUS). The groups immediately became engaged and cooperative, and there was a lot of great math talk going on about how to organize the task.
After we had a winner, the real challenge began. Here is what the rules were:
Again, I was impressed with the engagement and focus given the unpleasant conditions. And it was fascinating to watch the different teams work. One team stacked all the Pawns in one corner and pulled them out one at a time to order them. Other teams moved students around while they stood in line. And again, the winning team was thrilled with their free homework passes – even though there is no homework yet.
I was just as sticky at the end of the second day of school as I was at the end of the first day, but no longer felt quite as desperate. If we can have a great day under these conditions, imagine how well we’ll do when the air circulates again.