First Days of School

No, I’m not going to quote that Harry Wong book at you. Actually, my thoughts on that book could constitute a whole other blog post. I’ll restrain myself.

I just finished my plans (by plans I mean flipcharts) for the first week of the school year in both of my classes. Does this seem early to you? Then you must not live in Arizona. We are starting school on August 3 in my district. That is two weeks from Monday. Next week I’m going to Twitter Math Camp, and the week after that is the-week-before-school-starts. I’ll probably be spending 2-3 days down on campus getting all the stuff done that I can’t do at home (photocopying entire forests worth of paper), then we are required to report on the Thursday of that week. Which means Thursday and Friday will be spent listening to our admin talk about stuff, participating in meetings, and wondering why we feel like we’re not ready for school to start on Monday.

This means that I am reporting back to school two weeks from yesterday. Wow.

I’d like to outline what my plans are for this week in each class, partly so that when I can’t remember what I did a year from now, I’ll be able to look here. (Let’s be honest – this is only my 3rd time doing the first week of school. I still have no idea if my plans will work. If someone else wants to use my ideas, go for it. I make no guarantees about the quality of said ideas.)

All right, enough dilly-dallying. 

Algebra 1 Support

I’ve posted about this class before, so I’m not going to really get into the purpose of it here. Quick version – this class is a math intervention class for students who are taking Algebra 1 this year but have demonstrated that they will need additional support to be successful in Algebra 1.

I am going to start this class every day with a number talk. We will spend 10-15 minutes on the number talk, and I’m making a conscious decision that I don’t care what that means about how little time we will have for other material during the rest of the class period. For this first week, we will be doing dot talks instead of numbers. As suggested in Making Number Talks Matter, dot talks can help students get the idea of seeing things in different ways before bringing up the more “emotionally loaded” arithmetic problems.


We don’t really have bell work this day, because I need to explain how the dot talk is going to work. I’m going to take attendance and then jump right in. We’ll do our dot talk (estimate about 5-10 minutes for this first time) and move on to our activity for today – Fawn Nguyen’s Noah’s Ark.

(Side note – I’m going to be meeting Fawn at Twitter Math Camp next week and I’m so excited!)

I’m going to start by reading through the directions and making sure everyone understands the assignment. I’m finally starting to learn that I need to stop throwing things at students and expecting them to figure out the instructions on their own. Things go so much better when I give them clear expectations for the assignment and make sure everyone knows what to do before I set them loose.

Depending on time, I may have them work independently for a little while before they get together and finish in groups. I’m hoping they can finish before class ends, because I have a lot planned for the rest of the week and I want to make sure I can get to it all.


We’ll start with a new dot talk, then take a few minutes to go over important stuff in the syllabus, policies, procedures, and their first homework assignments. (Their parents have to email me, they have to get their required materials, and they have to return the signed syllabus signature page.) I have a Personal Questionnaire for this class that will ask them to do a lot of thinking about their math experiences up to this point, and since I don’t have time for them to do it in class, I’m going to assign it as homework.

Personal Questionnaire – Algebra Support

Today’s focus is on growth vs. fixed mindset, and I’m using the lesson plan from KhanAcademy to teach about this. They have videos, discussions, and activities. I haven’t decided if I’m going to use the Letter to a Future Student or the Growth vs. Fixed Poster to finish off the lesson. I’ll probably decide that based on how things feel that day.


I’m very proud of this progression – Tuesday’s lesson to Wednesday’s lesson.

We’ll do our usual dot talk first (hopefully by today we’ll have a decent understanding of how it works).

I’m going to read Ben Orlin’s blog post on The Math Ceiling to the Support classes (and show them the Bad Drawings on the board while I read, because the post isn’t complete without them). My point here is the same as Ben’s – we can talk about growth mindset all we like, but if there is a specific skill gap preventing students from understanding a concept, no amount of effort or mindset is going to fill in that gap for them.

I’m then going to explain that THIS is my goal for them in this class – to fill in those gaps so that they can be successful with their current concepts in Algebra 1. …And then to continue being successful next year in Geometry, Algebra 2, etc. I am going to explain that my goal is that they won’t need a class like this again – sure, they will still need help at times, but an in-depth class like this, no.

While I’m giving this little presentation, I’m going to say something like this: “Here’s the deal – many high school students have managed to develop compensating strategies so that you can get by in math class. It’s kind of like you’ve built bridges over those gaps instead of filling them in with earth. What I’m going to have to do is remove those bridges and fill in the earth. You’re not going to like this process. You are not going to want to give up your bridges, because they’ve been working for you…sort of. I’m going to have to persevere, and you’re going to have to persevere. We need to remember that in the end, your understanding will enable you to be so much more successful in the future, instead of just getting by.”

Can you tell I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately?

Anyway, after we talk about all of that, I’m going to explain my plan for how the class is going to work – focus on integers, fractions, and equations first semester, then focus on supporting current work in Algebra 1 during second semester. Then I’m going to ask the students to start thinking about what THEIR goals are for this class (for the first quarter).


We’ll finish up our discussion about goals by deciding on a class goal or writing a class motto, whichever the class chooses to do. I’m not going to have the students write individual goals for themselves yet. I want to give them a few weeks to see how the class works before they do that.

Thursday and Friday

After we finish our goal-setting discussion, I have two options for how to spend the rest of Thursday and Friday.

Option 1: Assuming I have most of the class period left, I’m going to do Fawn Nguyen’s Patterns Poster project. I have changed a few of the patterns to make them easier. Since my students have never done anything like this before, I’m worried they will really struggle with how to get from the concrete pattern to the abstract equation, and I don’t want this to take a week.

Option 2: If my plans for the rest of the week take longer than I’m expecting and I find that I need all day Tuesday for the goal-setting discussion, I’ll do a Desmos activity on Friday – either Polygraph: Basic Quadrilaterals or Central Park. I know I want to be using Desmos activities a lot this year, and since we have a class set of Chromebooks, it’s just a matter of reserving the computers for myself. I’ve written before about things that have worked and not worked for me with regard to the Polygraph activity, so I’ll make sure to use some of those strategies that worked.

Goals For The Week

  • Work together, and get used to the idea that we do this ALL THE TIME in my class
  • Persevere in solving a problem, and get used to the idea that we can and will take as much time as we need
  • Talk about math, explain their thinking, and learn that the explanation is more important than the answer
  • Begin learning about the idea that numbers can be represented and broken down in different ways

Financial Literacy


Monday is boring.

Students begin filling out Personal Questionnaire for bellwork. It’s rather long, and I know I never have the patience (or the time) to wait for them to finish the whole thing, so I’m planning to assign it to be finished as homework. It’ll probably be due like Friday or Monday or something.

Personal Questionnaire

We’ll have a think-pair-share discussion about what we are going to learn about in Financial Literacy, and what they want to learn about.

Then I’ll talk about the syllabus, rules, procedures, all that crap. This is why today is boring. We’ll talk about their first 3 homework assignments – have a parent email me, get your required materials, and turn in the syllabus signature page – then an exit ticket if there’s time.


Today is more fun. I’m considering switching Monday’s and Tuesday’s plans so we start off with something more interesting than my syllabus.

Today’s bell work – brainstorm. Write down everything you know about credit cards, loans, what it means to be rich/poor, and bank accounts. I’ve been teaching long enough to know that I’m guaranteed to have at least one student who writes down that they don’t know anything about any of these topics (and, since they’re seniors, probably include a snarky comment about how that’s why they’re in this class). Therefore, my directions include this: “If you don’t think you know anything, make up something that sounds good.”

After they finish writing, now is the perfect time to explain the bell work procedure for my class.

Today’s Activity: Financial Literacy Poster

You know the jigsaw-style group activity that you learn about at every single PD ever? Where the different kids in each group have different information and they have to work together to put it all together? I’m going to try it. I’m not a fan of the concept, but I might have found a way to make it work.

Each kid in a group (groups of 3 or 4) will be given a different article from Dave Ramsey’s curriculum for high school students. (My school has purchased this curriculum for me, and a lot of my 1st week stuff is coming from there.) They will go back to their group, discuss what they learned in their article, and create a poster describing the most important things they learned from their articles. Posters will be 8.5×11 pages because I’m not ready to start using my chart paper yet. (It’s expensive as hell and I’m saving it for my Algebra Support students.)

If we have time at the end of class, we’ll start watching some of the introductory videos from the Dave Ramsey curriculum. I’m hoping to get through the first chapter of that curriculum during the first week. They introduce some of the overarching themes of the class better than I do. Also, the kids are going to get sick of hearing my voice soon anyway, why not let them listen to someone else for a while?


We’re starting with instructions about the procedure for grabbing one of the calculators from the class set, so they can use them to take their pre-test. Our district uses pre- and post-test results as part of our evaluations, and since I won’t have a post-test in my other class (no final exam), I have to make sure I remember to do it in this class this year.

I’m also going to pass out textbooks and the schedule for the first chapter today. They don’t need this stuff until Friday, but it gives me a couple of days to make sure everyone has them in case someone is absent.

After we finish this logistical crap, I’m going to start explaining the Class Economy system we’re using. I got the idea from and used it last year. This year I am expanding on the system to include the use of online bank accounts, adding more jobs that I will really appreciate having, and NOT using the investment feature (not worth the effort). I’ve done my own version of the syllabus and put a lot of thought and effort into overcoming the issues I experienced last year. I’m pretty excited about everything I’ve come up with.

Full Overview of CE

Today we’ll discuss how the system works, how they earn money, how they lose/spend money, and how their bank accounts will be set up. (I’ll have to ask them for usernames and passwords today.)

Then we’ll watch another Dave Ramsey video, if there’s time.


We’ll continue discussing the Class Economy system today – anything that I didn’t get to go over the day before. Students will do a gallery walk to look at the different jobs that are available, including descriptions of the “ideal applicant” for each job. Then they’ll have some time to sit down and work on job applications. Hopefully a few people will come forward as being interested in the Executive Manager job and I can talk to them about this while everyone else is checking out the other jobs.

I really want to make sure everyone has a job this year. It’s nearly impossible to be successful in the system if you don’t have a (second) job. The Exemplary Student salary doesn’t pay enough to cover your bills, so unless you get lots of bonuses (which you can’t really count on), you need a second job. I’m going to emphasize this a lot more this year.

I also need to see if I can come up with a better consequence for students who are unable to pay their bills. “You can’t participate in the auction” doesn’t provide enough motivation.

We’ll watch more videos today if there’s time.


Today is sort of a spillover day for the rest of the week. We’ll finish up talking about the economy system if we need to, we’ll finish watching the Dave Ramsey stuff if there’s time, and we’ll do one or two activities from the Ramsey curriculum if there’s that much time.

I have a tendency to take twice as long as I estimate for everything I do in my class, so we might not get to all the Ramsey stuff.

Goals For The Week

  • Discuss expectations for the class – policies, procedures, how grades work, what to expect when we start content the next week
  • Introduce the kinds of things we will be learning about in this class
  • Preview the kinds of attitudes about money that I will be talking about during the year
  • Understand how the economy system works and be ready to make and spend money within the system

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