I tried something new this year. I was a little nervous trying it, but I did NOT want to do the whole “here is the syllabus, let me read it to you” shtick.
So, I made the first day very active and involved.
Did it work? What did I find went well, what didn’t?
In my Alg 2 STEM class, which is an honors level Alg 2 course, the seating randomly with cards and making the learners share something about themselves was rocky at first. I actually had to ask and model, “Did you share? And by sharing, did you actually do this?” walked up to learner, introduced myself, and said 3 things. The learners sat there in absolute silence until I did that, and then they talked, shared, and actually met their table mates.
Next, the cell phone assignment. OMG, it was a blazing success. I had 33 learners discussing rich mathematics, arguing about what kind of display to make, the benefit of bar graphs over line graphs over tables, what is important in choosing a plan, etc. The only thing I had to do was answer questions like, “Do you use a lot or a little data?”. The idea of rich problem solving and being less helpful was glorious and absolutely a positive in the classroom.
One learner did ask if I had a syllabus for them. I told them they would get it next week. This week they needed to establish some habits of conversation and working together. Several of them were shocked and amazed that I did not talk at them all period on the first day of class. Win.
My next class was Algebra 3, or Advanced Alg. It is a senior level class for learners who may or may not be going to college, but who need a 4th year of math and refuse or feel they are not capable of doing Trig/Precalc. This is a tough class, and can be challenging to teach because I get a lot of “I don’t get this” or “I am not good at math” etc.
This group I did the literal equation assignment and it was … rough. What was specifically rough was the idea of multiplying two binomials. I got a couple of “why can’t we just do this together?” questions, and on the second I stopped the entire class and gave the following reason why not. “During your freshman year, you did it together. And your sophomore year, you did it together, and your junior year, guess what, you … did it together. Who here thinks that me “doing it together” with you now will make a difference?” Not one person said it would.
This was a tough assignment for them, and the conversation was heavy on the, “Well, if it was easy, you shouldn’t be in this class.” and “Why would I waste your time with something you already know?” This resonated with them, and made them realize that I was on their side, I was just challenging them. I felt some success, even though they didn’t finish the assignment at all.
Finally, AP Stats. We did the Gender Discrimination problem / simulation. It was a great lesson, where we got to use the vocabulary of simulation right from day one. This was a great thing, and I think it set the tone for a class where discussion and simulation are the most important elements.
Time will tell. This was only day one, but at least it was a thought provoking day for my learners and a successful day for me. I believe learning did occur.