First Day of School

At the beginning of every course, as a conversation starter with their groups, I have my students come up with 20 words/phrases associated with a typical K-12 math class. The reason I do this is to have an insight on their previous mathematical experience and it gives me an opportunity to talk about my expectations and what I believe in. This also sets up the opportunity to think about what kind of teacher they want to be.

Here is an example of what one class said:

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At the end, I ask my students what they think the United States is ranked out of the 72 countries that took part in PISA 2015 ( We are actually in the bottom half, which surprises some, and I tell them that if these 20 words/phrases reflect a typical classroom, we need to change something, because it obviously does not work.

I then ask the students, if you were to take something out, what would you put in? Keep doing this until you have an ideal classroom.

Here’s what they exchanged:

  1. Enjoy it
  2. Approachable teacher
  3. Positive, Growth Mindset
  1. Exit tickets
  2. Student-centered
  3. Give options for HW

12/14. Give partial credit

  1. Receptive teacher
  2. Interactive learning

So, what can we do with this information? I’m not sure what we can do on a bigger scale, but at least it gets all of the students on the same page right from the start in my classroom. It shows that teachers and their styles are remembered years after the course and it will leave either a positive or negative impact, so we have to carefully teach.

Jamie Garner (@mavenofmath) suggested that teachers should also do a similar activity, “Give me 20 things that make students good at math” which I would highly recommend as well so we can dispel some myths about what it takes to be good at math.