Tuesday, August 16, 2011

First Day of Class

Mostly fabulous. Definitely exhausting. Must write it down so I won't forget the details.

My first class was Pre-Calc at 10, but I had to get to campus before 9 so I could stop by another teacher's 8am calc II class, which had too many students, and recruit for my 1pm calc II class, which had too few students. (Many of the science students are in labs at that time.)

I finally got a chance to look at my Pre-Calc classroom and was disappointed to find out it's not a 'smart' classroom - no internet to screen capacity. I showed it to a colleague who prefers chalkboards. He said he'd think about switching rooms with me.

Here are my notes for Pre-Calc:

Before class: Push desks into pods of 4, number the groups

Stand at door with handouts for exercise, and seat cards.
On side board:
·      “Look here every day,
·      make a name tent (diagram) 
·      make sure to sign the attendance sheet neatly (groups diagram)
·      adds at end of week

Axes exercise:  (10:10-10:25)
·      Groups do it
·      Share out

Do ‘good at math?’ exercise  (10:25-10:35)

Talk about brain function and learning: neurons, synapses, myelin sheath, confusion  (10:35-10:45)

Crossing Tiles problem: (10:45-10:58)
Do in groups

Announce: (10:58-11:00)
·      Must have a textbook, can use older edition, see me to learn how to one for under $10, you will  be dropped if you don’t get one (I want to give my effort to those who will care enough about succeeding to take care of their end.)
·      Photos on Tuesday
Hand out syllabus pack at door at end

I wasn't able to get into the room before the students did, so my seat cards were useless. But the students helped me move the desks, and the grouping gave us more space between the groups - very nice in our crowded classrooms.

It was so different from my usual first day. I talked way less, and they got to play with math more. The axes exercise went well, and I used it in all 3 classes. I wonder if any problems will arise from not going over my policies. I handed out a 'syllabus search' as part of their homework in 2 of the 3 classes, so they'll be nudged to read the syllabus. The times I used on my plan were no use at all.

[Please let me know whether the links in this post work. They're to documents I've shared in google documents. It's my first time doing this. I am so slow to pick up each new techie bit - that's why I had to go to Maria's workshop.]

Axes Exercise
Work in the middle of the table with your team. Label the x and y axis each with an attribute (no physical
attributes please) such that each dot represents one person in the team.

This came from the Complex Instruction workshop. I loved how much mathematical thinking they had to do while being prompted to get to know each other. For next year, I think I'll change the instructions on the bottom. (People thought the dots had to represent them in the same order they were sitting. Question for CI (Complex Instruction) experts: Is it better to have less instruction on a sheet like this, so they have to figure it out?)

If I were good at CI, I would have been writing myself notes about good things students were doing, so I could let them know how their actions helped their group. Mostly I had no time for that. When I did have a moment, I had trouble hearing enough to know what was going on.

In the Pre-Calc class, I got one volunteer for the share out, and rolled dice for a second 'volunteer'. I had 10 groups but no 10-sided die. I rolled 2 dice, and thought about how the odds were stacked against group 7. I didn't bring that up, but I might another time. We clapped for the brave souls who came up and explained their group's work.

We discussed conventional ideas about what qualities someone who's good at math would have, versus what's really true. That's about all we got to.

I want to remember to use the side board for instructions. I want to keep trying to respond to their questions with questions, instead of answering them. I'm not good at that.

Calc II
I had two hours between class, but I still had to print out my syllabi. I had purposely not prepped much for this class, since I wasn't sure it would go. We got 16 students, so it's good to go. And I know from last semester that more people may join us over the coming week.

This group was slower to get started with the axes exercise than my lower level classes. Once they got into it, they did it well, and enjoyed talking to each other, but they seemed less comfortable with jumping into something that was strange to them.

As they finished, they picked up a Calc I review sheet.

I had no homework sheet for them, so I told them their homework was to find 5 Calc I problems they could do and do them, and to find 5 they couldn't do and write them down to share with their group tomorrow.

Intermediate Algebra
Terrible classroom. One whiteboard covered in information I thought might need to stay, one chalkboard on wheels. But we worked with what we had. I'll try to change rooms, but it might be impossible.

This class is part of a program funded by First Five money, and has a smaller enrollment cap than our usual 40. Unfortunately our computer system can't handle the quirks of this class, so there were lots of people who came, hoping to get in, even though it was full. And everyone who is in still has to register online for this one, but I couldn't get their add codes, because WebAdvisor was down.

It took a while to get all the registration details taken care of, but this is a 2 1/2 hour class (5:40-8pm), so we had plenty of time to do some math. Their homework included putting some fractions in order, and the suggestion to play Flower Power at Manga High if they had any trouble with that.

After our break, I use Energizing Brain Breaks, a little book I bought online; I find a silly physical exercise in it for us to do together, to wake us up. I also talk about how cross-lateral motion is supposed to help brain development.

At 8:30pm, after 12 hours at work, I dragged myself home, mostly content. And now I'd better get to work prepping for today!


  1. brain breaks & flower power...
    ordinary URL links... worked fine.

    the first gargle.docs thing i looked at...
    the axes exercise... worked
    okay but then g'docs decided to mess
    with me and every other thing i tried
    with them got me

    "You need permission to access this item.

    You are signed in as vlorbik@gmail.com, but you don't have permission to access this item. You can request access from the owner or sign-in as a different user"

    or worse. blag.

    thanks for all your hard work
    (documenting all your hard work).

    "The times I used on my plan were no use at all."
    i *was* sort of amazed the way
    you had it blocked out. i'd never
    even think of doing it that way
    unless made to. in which case
    i'd tell lies so preposterous nobody
    would even be tempted to believe 'em
    and wing it anyway.

  2. Thanks for checking, Owen.

    It's not google docs being bad, it's the way I did it, apparently. I made the folder they're in public, so I thought each file would be public. Maybe not... I'll go make each one public.

    Perhaps the time thing is silly, but making estimates and then finding out how wrong I was may help me improve my future estimates.

  3. That's a loooong first day!

    I do a syllabus group exercise. I break the syllabus into part and have each group summarize part of the syllabus. They have to decide together what is most important and report out (and say their names).

    It gives me a chance to comment if they leave things out.

  4. ARG! Reading this makes me itch to get back into the classroom (and I would kill to switch rooms with you - I'm TOTALLY a chalk girl).

    Thanks for sharing, Sue!

  5. Ahh, I was a chalk girl too, and scared the markers would give me headaches. (Turns out they don't.)

    But now... There is so much online I want to show them. A circle I made using geogebra. For Kate Nowak's crossing squares problem,I wanted to show them the interactive goegebra thingie. Wolfram Alpha. The pi song (linked on my pi day post). Neurons. That's all in 3 days.

    And I want them to use google when we have questions. There was a good one today. I'll blog it.

  6. Thanks for the thoughts on First Day of Class. There are some other examples of First Day sessions as digital media case stories at


    We don't have a math case story in this collection, anyone interested in putting one together?

    Tom Carey

  7. Thanks for your comment, Tom. I hope someone here will say yes. If not, maybe I could work something up for next semester.

  8. I like the label-the-axes get-to-know-you thing. I'm aiming for students getting more chances to know their classmates a little better this year. I'd like to do one GTKY thing every time we change seats (every 5 weeks or so). Thanks for sharing it so I can file it away.

  9. It works great the second time around, too. I did it in the past few days with my Calc II and PreCalc classes, after I moved people to new groups. The Calc II has the logic of it down. The Precalc is still learning from the logic part of the exercise.

  10. Hi Sue,

    I was at the CI workshop too and I also used the axis activity at the beginning of my school year. I made a bunch of easier ones to help my 9th graders get started and my 11-12th. The easier ones I gave my 9th graders included 4 x values pointing to the same y value and one with four data points along y=x. The little bit of scaffolding really helped with the interpretation of the final graph with the square looking graph.

    Hope your year is going well.

  11. Those sound great, Yetta. Can you send me copies?


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