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As a teacher, the start of a new school year always makes me feel both excited and anxious. During the summer, I kept on thinking what would be the best way to start the year?  After a challenging year, I felt that I needed to be very intentional about the first lesson I delivered to my students. I learned all my students were going to be in-person and that masks were going to be required indoors for everyone. With that in mind, I decided to prioritize three things on the first couple of days: checking in with students, facilitating #MathPlay, and getting feedback about their math experience last year as well as what their ideal math class would look like. I decided to use Desmos since I knew that most students (if not all) had previously used it. 

1) Checking-in with Students

Seeing all my students in person on the first day was really amazing. The level of energy and excitement in the room was contagious. I asked students to share how they were feeling by moving an interactive point within four quadrants. They were also able to share/write about it if they wanted to. I was happy to see that most of them were feeling positive while their energy levels varied from tired to energetic. During our check-in time, students also had an opportunity to share among their groups and connect with other classmates. It was definitely a great way to start class!!

2) #MathPlay

One of my goals as a math teacher is for my students not to be afraid to make a mistake. Math is usually perceived as a subject where you either get it or you don’t and I have noticed in many classes (particularly advance/honors classes) that students only want to participate/share if they know they are correct. I hope to be able to establish a classroom culture where mistakes are welcome and seen as a learning opportunity for all. With that in mind, I decided to have a “Which One Doesn’t Belong” problem on the first day. Students were very comfortable sharing and it was very interesting to hear different reasons for the same choice. 

During our first lesson, I also gave students a graphic pattern and asked them “How do you see this pattern growing?” Students were able to sketch the next step within desmos. When we came together as a class, it was very interesting to see how many students got similar pictures but how they drew them was slightly different. I felt it was an important thing for my students to experience how different pathways can lead to the same solution. I wish this idea was more common across math classrooms. 

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3) Student Feedback

There is no doubt that last year was a challenging year for all of us, but it was also a learning opportunity for teachers and students. Personally, I prefer to be teaching in-person, however, there are things I believe worked well and I will continue to use from my hybrid experience. With that in mind, I decided to ask my students about their math experience last year. It was nice to see that many of them had many positive things to say about math class last year. 

Students also got to share what their ideal math class would look like. I learned that using a variety of instructional approaches and multiple ways to demonstrate mastery of the knowledge will probably be best for my students. 

Towards the end, my students got a chance to share about their first math class of the year. I wanted to know both how they felt about the math and how they felt about learning it. I was very happy and pleased with the feedback students provided, I also hope that the first couple of days serve as a starting point to build a community of learners who are not afraid to make a mistake and feel valued as individuals. 

I hope you find these ideas helpful and are able to incorporate them with your students. Now more than ever, I feel it’s crucial that we connect with our students and create a welcoming class environment where they all feel valued. 

 “Your attention I thank you for.” – Master Yoda

PS: This Yoda quote was the last slide of my lesson for day 1 and the students really liked it.

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Libardo Valencia

Libardo Valencia

Mathematics Educator

Note: Fresh Ideas for Teaching blog contributors have been compensated for sharing personal teaching experiences on our blog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.

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