When I think of my first day of high school, I think of the anxiety I felt: the building seemed huge, the people seemed old, and the idea of balancing multiple classes was overwhelming. So when I look at my rosters for my incoming Algebra 1 students, I can’t help but sympathize.
For several years, I had been using a survey created by a colleague to introduce myself to my IB seniors, and to find out more about them. And this year, when I found out I was teaching freshmen for the second year in a row, I knew it would be a great idea to find out more about them too. So, I created a similar Google form survey for them to complete, and emailed it to all of them. (If you decide to do this, remember to email it to yourself, and “blind-copy” the students.) The survey contained questions about last year’s math class experience, how they felt coming into this year, what other activities they would be involved in, and anything else I should know about them.
The results came back in a Google spreadsheet. And I was amazed at the sincerity of the responses, but more importantly, I was grateful. I learned that two of my incoming students are shy and don’t like to talk in class, one student likes to socialize but promises he will get his work done. Several were nervous about math not being their best subject, while others were worried it would be too easy. Some responded to the survey using nicknames, which I made a note of. Some students had a great summer, and others lost family members happen during those months. I kept notes on all of this so that I can be more sensitive to each student as they walk in my classroom.
But I wanted to do more. I wanted them to know that I appreciated their responses, and I had carefully read each one. So for every response I got, I sent an email back to the student, welcoming them, encouraging them, letting them know that I would do whatever it takes to match my instruction to their learning paces and styles, but more importantly, letting them know that I value each of them as a unique human being.
Knowing their names is pointless, though, if you can’t match them to the faces. So once the first day arrives (tomorrow), I will have each student make a name plate out of a folded piece of paper. Then, table by table, I will take pictures of the class, promising the students that the pictures will not be published in any way. I will also clarify any pronunciations with them and make notes of any that may cause me trouble. My homework will consist of looking through the pictures and remembering all of the students and the pronunciations of their names. The next time I see those students, I will quiz myself by going around the room and naming all of them. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it. I can only imagine how special I would feel if the teachers of this huge building already knew my name by the second day of classes.
I think that the teacher-student relationship has a lot to do with how valued a student feels in high school, so I am always looking for ways to strengthen that relationship, whether it’s before I ever meet them, while we work together in class, or the following year when they’ve moved on to their next math class.
Often I stay in touch with my students long after they graduate. Sometimes it’s just an annual “happy birthday” message from me on Facebook, and sometimes it’s checking “I will attend” on a wedding invitation.
I’m excited to see how the survey and emails to students will affect the classroom environment on day one, and I can’t wait to match these names and personalities to their faces. I am hoping that stress and conflict will be reduced greatly, and I’m hoping that they see me as not just as their teacher, but someone who genuinely cares about them, and will be there for them when they need it.
Whether these students realize it or not, they now have someone new in their lives who will be thinking about them for a long time, wondering about their futures, and excited for what they are preparing to achieve in the many years of opportunities that lie ahead of them.
This is what teachers do – teaching children is my job, but caring about them is my purpose.
This is the fourth year I will be implementing the First 5 Days in my class.
You may recall that my school is on a modified block schedule this year, meaning that some classes meet every day, and others meet for about twice as long every other day. How can I do First 5 Days if I see some classes for 5 days, some for 3, and others for only 2?
The solution is somewhat of a band-aid, but it gets the job done with no time lost. I’ll explain using the five days that will be used for my “every day” classes, followed by how it will be used in the block classes.
The emphasis of the first five days is still on two things: (1) empathy, and (2) internet research skills. And I think I’ve done a good job at connecting these two seemingly disjoint topics.
I spent the summer researching videos and activities that would work well with my students, and the whittling process took some time as a result. Here’s what I came up with:
Day 1: Perspective – a video of the “moving sculpture” that changes from two giraffes to an elephant depending on where you stand, a video of cylinders that can look like cubes depending how you rotate them, an activity in which the description of a house has different meaning to a burglar and a real estate agent, a discussion of internet suffixes to gain different perspectives on the same issue from different groups of people in different countries, and a video of Simon Sinek’s bagel story
Day 2: Perspective – a video of 25 different world maps, a video zooming into a cell and out to the universe, an activity in which students discuss their meanings of words like, “tolerance” and “community,” a discussion of EasyWhoIs to find the author of a website, and a video from Apple about perspective
Day 3: Compassion – a video explaining where compassion comes from, a video about giving, a six-word story activity, an activity about the positive aspects of failure, and a discussion about Google search shortcuts
Day 4: Compassion – a video on compassion, a video about the link between failure and compassion, a guessing game in which a famous story of failure is read and students guess whose story it is, an activity in which students identify with classmates who have gone through the same failures, a discussion of the WayBackMachine and how we can better understand how people felt when tragic world events occurred
Day 5: Empathy – a video on the difference between sympathy and empathy, a talk show game in which one student is a host and the other has had something fictional happen to them, an activity in which students must create a fictional student with a personality and must determine what this students would think/say/do about school or life in general
Since some classes meet everyday, this is the schedule I will use for the first five days. In block classes, I will see them twice as long every other day, so this is what the schedule looks like:
First Class – Perspective (Day 1 & 2)
Second Class – Compassion (Day 3 & 4)
Third Class – Empathy (Day 5) & first math lesson of the year
It’s not ideal, but I am interested to see how it works. I will also be asking students for feedback afterwards, and I will share that in a later post.
Graduates Talking to Seniors
Like last year, I have also scheduled graduates from my class to talk to this year’s seniors about applying to college, and what college life is like.
This was a huge success last year, in that the seniors were less stressed about what was coming up in their lives.
I’m actually looking forward to Monday more than usual this year!!
This year, the school has adopted a modified block schedule. There are two periods – one at the beginning of the day, and one at the end – that are normal periods, meeting every day. Then there are six block periods meeting every other day – three on “A” days, the other three on “B” days.
As you can see, all of my Honors Algebra 1 classes are blocked, so they will be following a simpler Flipped Classroom format. And IB Math Studies is a “onesie,” so that’s an easy flip too.
But some of my IB Math HL/SL classes meet for 55 minutes every day, and some meet every other day for 90 minutes. Over a two-day period, that’s a discrepancy of 20 minutes!
The solution: Flipped Asynchronous Classroom! I’ve used (somewhat) in my IB Math classes so far, but it has never been as necessary as it will be this year.
How does it work? To make the classes truly “asynchronous,” I give them all of the assessment dates for the year, in advance, and they work at their own pace to make sure they are ready for each formal assessment. I also give them a “pacing guide” so that they can tell whether they are ahead or behind. During class I keep track of their progress and answer individual questions. If any student gets too far behind, I have a conference with them. If it becomes habitual, I contact parents so that we can find better solutions.
Because these students are seniors, I believe they will benefit tremendously from this true Flipped Asynchronous Classroom model. It encourages them to do a little bit of work each day, rather than do it all right before the test.
Now for Honors Algebra 1: In order to flip these classes, I have set up pages using Blendspace. Each page has a set of tiles, and each tile has a link to either a video, a page of notes, or an interactive activity to reinforce the knowledge. Students will be required to watch the video and take notes during the evening, and show me their completed notes in order to participate in the class activity. If they haven’t done this, they will be required to watch the video and complete the notes during class, instead of participating. This should motivate students to get their work done in the evening, especially since it’s just a video and notes, not a bunch of practice questions. This should prove interesting, because these are freshmen, not seniors. It will be a steep learning curve for them, but I know this, and I plan to help them a lot in the beginning.
I’m very excited for this year. Yes, it will be an interesting experiment, but I love a good challenge!