Building Relationships: Know Your Students Before You Meet Them

School is only days away, and my mind is already excited for the first day. I love meeting all of the young people I will be teaching and guiding over the next ten months. Any teacher will tell you, though, that the hardest part is learning all of their names and getting to know all of them individually, all while getting through the curriculum.

If you have been reading my blog, you know that I value relationships with students above all else. I use the Flipped Classroom model so that I can spend more face-to-face time with each student. And I use the First Five Days of school to teach perspective, compassion, and empathy, so that they can have meaningful relationships with others. Well, there’s more:

A few years ago, a colleague of mine developed a survey to give to students, in order to learn more about them: what they like to be called, what math course they took last year, what activities they are involved in, and what their personal interests are.

I used this survey for a few years, and this year, I decided to make my own. I asked a lot of the same questions, but added some new ones: what is your main goal for math class this year, and what is your greatest obstacle in math class. I send out the survey as a Google Form and use a spreadsheet to track the results.

This accomplishes a lot of things. First of all, it lets me know quickly the varying levels of math background the students already have. Specifically in my Calculus BC class this year, I noticed that while most students have finished Calculus AB, there was one student who took Pre-Calculus last year, and two who took Honors Algebra 2. So before the year begins, I already know I’m going to have some conversations with these students, and possibly their parents and counselors, to let them know the level of knowledge and rigor that is expected in Calculus BC. I also know that when certain Calculus topics come up that require skills that they were not exposed to, I will have to give them some resources to get them to the same level as their classmates.

I was also fascinated by their varying goals. Some were focused on grades and GPA, while others just want to learn calculus, or just enjoy math. Personally, it worries me when someone’s goal is grades or GPA – it’s like saying my goal in life is to have a lot of money – I worry that they don’t care how they accomplish that goal, even if it involves dishonesty. But I have to give them the benefit of the doubt: maybe they just haven’t really thought about what goals are supposed to look like. What I mean is, a goal should be to learn, whereas a high grade is a consequence of achieving that goal. Similarly, a worthwhile job is a goal, whereas money is a consequence.

As I look at the results, I now have a lot of information about my students before day one, which is to everyone’s advantage.

The survey itself is great, but I’m the only one who benefits if I stop here. So now comes the fun part. I write an email to each student and personally welcome him or her to my class. I comment on their responses, especially if we have something in common. For example, many of them are involved in a school music program, and I’ve been playing piano since I was 7. If we have nothing in common, I look for responses that I could talk to them about. Many of them are involved in activities outside of school that I know little to nothing about, and I want to learn. I tell them this in my message to them.

The whole process is very simple, and even though it takes time to write all of those emails, the student knows that he or she is a welcome and valued member of my class before walking into my classroom on the first day. The relationship has already begun and is already meaningful before we ever shake hands and say, “Good morning,” for the first time.


Rational Expressions – Exterior Angling

Flipped Classroom – Flip 7

This is my seventh year implementing the Flipped Classroom model, and I don’t know why, but I feel more excited than usual about this new year.

Maybe it’s because I’ve moved to a new classroom. For the past several years, I’ve been in a hallway with my fellow IB teachers, but now I’ve moved back to the math hallway. I will definitely miss my IB colleagues, but I think it will be good for me to be around more people who can talk math with me. Also, it will be a chance for them to learn more about what we actually do in IB Math classes.

Maybe I’m excited because I just came back from presenting at my second conference this year. Earlier this year I presented on “The Flipped Classroom” and “The First Five Days” at the Common Ground conference in Ocean City, Maryland, and was well-received. Last week, I presented on the same topics, plus “Making Assessments Cheat-Proof,” at the Conference for the Advancement of Mathematics Teachers (CAMT) in Houston, Texas, and the response was amazing! The first session was three-quarters full and the other two were completely full! After the conference, I received multiple emails asking me to share my resources (which I gladly did).

Or maybe I’m excited because, while keeping all of my IB Math classes, I’ve gone from teaching Algebra 1 to teaching AP Calculus BC this year. It’s been a while since I’ve taught Calculus, but there are a lot of the same concepts in my IB Math courses. There are just a few lessons that I need to brush up on, and then I’ll be fine.

As far as flipping goes, I will still do that in my IB classes, because that continues to be successful. I think I will use this year to make my classes more asynchronous and mastery-based, but I know I will have to teach the students how to manage their independence. I still start the year keeping everybody on the same lesson on the same day, and then as the year progresses, assign firm deadlines but give more freedom as to how they get there.

I don’t feel comfortable flipping Calculus yet, especially since it’s my first year. But I will use this year to see which IB videos and activities I can directly transfer to the Calculus classes. Then next summer I can craft the necessary playlists for those classes.

Again, I don’t know why I’m excited. I think it’s because I get to work with more of those precious seniors than usual. Yes, I look forward to teaching them mathematics. But more importantly, I hope I can gradually build their sense of integrity and character, and give them a sense of assurance that life after high school will be okay.

Rational Expressions – Progression

Rational Expressions – Fool Proof

Rational Expressions – Finite Series

Rational Expressions – Additional Comments

Rational Expressions – Pi’s Prize

Rational Expressions – Inter-Sick-Tion

Rational Expressions – Not Interested

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Ramblings of: a HS math teacher; lover of technology; addicted to learning; passionate about making learning feel like play.

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