Talking from day 1

Week 1 is over!

This year I want to get students discussing math at higher levels. So, I thought I would focus on the expectation Day 1, while students discussed one of their favorite topics: themselves. I stole all of the activities from this dy/dan post, using three of the getting to know you activities. I’m also focusing on building relationships, so I figure it’s worth our time to do more than one of these.

Relationship building:

Overall, I allotted more time to get to know each other this year.

For student warm-ups all week they filled in sections of this Who I Am sheet. I looked at the new information everyday and sometimes asked follow up questions. I think this helped me build up an idea of who each student is, because I would look at the new answers and the old answers and start to piece things together.

(I know a lot of teachers want to get the idea across that we do math in math class, and use their warm-up time for that. Reflection on my previous two years teaching, I felt like I had done alright pushing math, but at the expense of creating human connection.)

Then, we did Rachel Rosales’ name tag activity, followed by Personality Coordinates.

The name tags proved to be very useful. I loved the communication aspect–this more than the Who I Am sheet shed a lot of light on student personalities. Plus, they served as makeshift binders/folders and let me try out a bunch of different seating arrangements without much hassle.

Talking in Math:

Both activities let us practice talking-structures that I want to use throughout the year. Talking math was an emphasis for me last year, but I never really nailed it. My think-pair-shares were awkward; I had trouble convincing students to listen to each other; we flailed using group work structures. This year is going to be different.

The name tag provide our first think-pair-share. Students get markers and a piece of paper folded lengthwise, write their names and then draw 3-5 pictures which help explain who they are.

THINK: Draw the pictures.

PAIR: Introduce self to partner, tell them one thing you like. Ask if they agree. (Switch)

SHARE: Same as pair but to the class.

So simple. (Later in the week, we used the Who Am I answers for extra easy TPS practice. The “I never have . . .” entry made for a fun share-out.)

The next structure we practiced, I got from a fifth grade teacher and is pretty awesome. Students listen to each other and then comment using the following sentence starter:

“I heard _____ saying ________. I (dis)agree, because ______”

The students had fun with this, and I was able to start getting them to think about pushing our understanding by adding new ideas with the “because______”.

What is typical from a middle school student: “I heard Michael saying he likes basketball. I agree, because I like basketball.”

What I want: “I heard Michael saying he likes basketball. I agree, because basketball is a fun way to get exercise.”

So when I got the typical response I asked them to push there reasoning further.

By the end of the week, we are using the same structure to discuss math. Students are more comfortable with it, but I still get a lot of answers like:

“. . . I agree because he’s right.”

But I am also hearing students use the “because” when talking about ideas with their partners, and nailing it!

Last, I used Personality Coordinates to get them comfortable in groups and also so that they had to do some challenging thinking. (They told me it was hard, but fun, on their name tags!) I still need to work on how to teach group work to them.

I also realized in my second class that I didn’t quite get how cool personality coordinates were, until I talked one group through labeling their axes. My example involved hanging out with Will Smith, Beyonce and Albert Einstein:


I talked through our group work.

WILL: “Hey Beyonce, you get shout outs from Jay in his songs. I get shout outs, could that be our y-axis. Anisfeld have you?”

ME: “Certainly not. Einstein?”

EINSTEIN: “Sorry guys, Hov is all about me.”

What I realized is that my graph was too categorical. Talking with some 7th graders they came up with a really clever labels so the axes were continuous!


They came up with categorical measures, like “We like Dodge Chargers, she likes Hummers and he likes Jeeps”. So I asked them if they could think of a way to capture that without coming up with clunky categories (I was thinking fuel efficiency, but speed worked too.)  For the x-axis, they came up with techno v. hip-hop, so I asked them again to try to capture that with a numerical measure.


This might be a better version of my original example.