Tomorrow is the first day of school for teachers in my board, and really most of the province. The students don’t start for 6 more sleeps, but tomorrow morning school libraries across this vast city will be full of educators ready to discuss how we are going to make this year the best one yet.

Or, maybe, full of people hoping we’ll have a few minutes at the end of the day to make sure the classroom is ready.

From home, on rainy days, I have been making plans. I think I know what I am doing on the first 2 days. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I am going to start math this year. Every August I feel like I have never taught before. I can’t remember anything I did on the first day in previous years. I have vague memories of starting off with art projects and activities related to identifying 2D and 3D shapes, or of asking students to play math games.

The awesome math facilitators in my board have created a “First X Days” of school document for students in junior and intermediate grades, and are working on a primary version. I attended workshop in June and so have decided to arrange my first 2 weeks recommended in this document.

I am really excited about 2 of the activities! I mean, I’m excited about the whole thing, but REALLY excited about 2 specific things.

First, Amy Krause Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld wrote a really great book called “Duck! Rabbit”. Throughout the book, there is one drawing and unseen people are arguing about whether it is a duck or a rabbit. (I’m assuming they are people. It doesn’t really say.)

Each gives his/her/its well supported opinion. I think it really shows an important idea we need children to consider in mathematics: There isn’t always one right answer. Two people can have different opinions and still be right. The important thing is being able to justify one’s opinion. (PS: I know that’s not just in math. I’m trying to stay focused here though.)

After, we are going to read this awesome book:

I’m waiting for some permission to photocopy a page for students to write on. I am going to ask the students which one doesn’t belong, and then let pairs of students talk for 10 minutes about their opinion. Then they will present to the larger group. My goal with this day’s activity is to have the students really think about justifying their thinking. I want to introduce that word to them early on. I’ve read Cathy Fosnot’s book “Conferring with Young Mathematicians” and she talks a lot about asking good questions that get the students to really reason their way through and around an answer so they understand their thinking deeply, rather than just accidentally stumbling upon the right answers and moving on. That should get us through one day of the first week.

The second thing I am excited about is also related to a read-aloud (because that’s how I do things!) This one is called “Great Estimations” by Bruce Goldstein. Inside, there are pictures of every day items. A small amount is sectioned off and labeled, a larger amount is also sectioned off and labeled, and then there is a large amount of the same item and readers are asked to estimate how many there are. Here is an example:

After we talk about the pictures in the book, which will be too far away from the students to count by ones using their fingers to touch each one therefore “forcing” them to estimate, I am going to send them off to their tables. On each table I will have 2 jars of everyday items. One will be full, the other will have 10 of that item. I am going to ask them to work in pairs and estimate how many are in each jar, record their answers, and then move on to at least 3 more sets of jars. I am thinking this will take 2 days. I’d like them to have to work out a strategy, and then use it again after a good night’s sleep to make sure they are really getting it. I’m also hoping this will reinforce the idea that we must record our thinking clearly! The estimation jars are not my own original idea. I know I have read about them in an Effective Guide to Mathematics Instruction, but I can’t remember which one and I am not going down the long and windy road of www.edugains.ca to try and find it for you. You’re on your own! Or you could just take my word for it. I’ve used them many different times, sometimes even having a new set of jars every month and revisiting this idea of estimation often. I like it, the kids like it, and they develop a pretty good sense of magnitude, comparing, and counting if you ask me. Oh, and estimating. They get pretty good at estimating.

In conclusion, I think this really will be my best start yet. I am loving this idea of focusing on setting up the class so that our first 9 conversations are all about problem solving as a good thing, mistakes as an important part of learning, and about being able to participate in a productive argument about your math. I’m glad I had someone else guide me in that direction.