First Day of September Problems in your Math Classroom
There is a lot of discussion out there about what to do on the first day of math class. Do you start with building class community, work on class norms or rules, or do you start with a good problem?
You might want to just start with the question, “what is math?”, and see what kids think. I guarantee you will get interesting responses.
You could do a lot worse than starting with Jo Boaler’s 7 Norms for setting up a positive environment in math classrooms.
You could get kids to talk about these, to identify with one, to unravel them and let them speak about them as a way of building a strong class culture. These seven things along would take you a long way to starting off your math community on a positive note.
Like many around the world, I used to deploy a “basic skills” worksheet on the first few days. Reviewing number concepts seemed like the thing to do-I dutifully gave grade sixes a few pages of review of the four operations. All that was revealed that the “summer slide” is real. Many could add, some even forgot how to regroup in subtraction, many needed the multiplication algorithm explained to them, and, honestly, forget about long division after the summer. Who stores that in long term memory?
Eventually I realized I should just start the year with a good problem. Things changed when I did that. I signalled to kids, “this is a problem-solving community”. “We think in this classroom.”
Starting the year with a problem was one of the best changes I made. There is plenty of time for review and norm building and rules later. I wanted to get the culture started right. I wanted to get us talking and thinking about interesting mathematics right away. I wanted to put out the bait, set the hook, let kids know that mathematics is interesting, puzzling, wonderful, and perhaps even joyful.
Some ideas for the “first day” problem:
- something that doesn’t require too much content specific knowledge (you wouldn’t expect kids to pull out Pythagorean Theorem right after summer, for example)
- something that gets kids reasoning
- something that has an interesting context. Actually, I am okay if you start with a “cookie” problem. But you can probably do better than cookie fractions or cookie operations on the first day
- something that activates kids’ intuition, or estimation sense, or just their logical sense in general.
I used to like this problem a lot:
Seven people meet in a room. All shake hands with each other, by way of greeting. How many total handshakes happen.
This picture shows some kids’ thinking about it on one first day:
I might try this one, from Martin Gardner, when next I have my own classroom:
My problem of the summer is Gauss’ sum problem for 1 to 100. I think it’s ideal for the first day. Try it?
What is the sum of all numbers from 1 to 100?
Spoiler for one way kids might do it, and how a young Gauss did it:
Another one that intrigues me lately is called “Leo the Rabbit”, from YouCubed.
This problem is pretty high on the difficulty scale- but maybe grades 6 to 8 would enjoy it. It is a good one for the “break a problem down into a smaller problem” strategy. (It also neatly disguises the Fibonacci sequence).
You could also start with any Estimation180 image, an intriguing pattern, or anything at all that gets kids reasoning and thinking? Maybe you just deploy an open number line or a hundreds chart and “play”.
Get kid used to the idea of making a mathematical mess. Thinking is messy.
Do you have a go-to first day problem? How do you start your year?