I am so ready for class to *really* start

I expected my Algebra 1 class enrollment to be relatively stable since I had the same kids in class on Tuesday as at the end of class on Monday. Today, I showed up and there were about 45 students in the room. There were more students than there were chairs so some were standing in the back. I didn’t prepare enough handouts and hurriedly printed more on the laser printer in the room. About 10 minutes into the class, another teacher took about 10 of them away to another class. The class started off in chaos and I never felt like I regained my composure.

Also, I made a crucial mistake in my lesson. I chose a beautiful problem (partly, because it has more than one answer) from the CPM Algebra 1 textbook as the main activity today.


Students were arranged in groups of four and I told them to work together. I did not anticipate that students would not know how to calculate the area of a rectangle. There were many students who confused perimeter with area–for example, quite a few students set the living room to be a square with four sides 45 ft each and concluded that the area of the living room was 180 sq ft. Many other students didn’t know how to start and they grew frustrated and gave up because I couldn’t get to all of them quickly enough. Thankfully, there were two other teachers in the room who were helping answer questions, but none of the students were able to come up with a possible solution by the end of the period.

My Geometry class today didn’t run much better than my Algebra 1 class. Again, students were in and out of the room during class. (I noticed I had at least two students who were in both Algebra 1 and Geometry–their schedules are also messed up.) The activities that I had prepared went ok for those that were engaged, but there were a number of students who just didn’t want to do anything. Today I tried to redo the activity that I wasn’t able to do last time–finding the shape with the largest area with a fixed perimeter using string and graph paper. One student was surprised by the finding that a circle has larger area than a square with the same perimeter, so I guess it was a success at least for one student. The rest of the time, we played sprouts. Again, some were into it, the rest were not.

It was really discouraging to feel like I am mostly babysitting these students while the school figures out who is in my class and who isn’t. I haven’t given students textbooks yet as I’m not sure who is really in the class. Should I continue giving interesting but somewhat unrelated tasks during class, or should I just begin class and try to help students catch up as they join the class? What if my class doubles in size the next time we meet? How sure should I be about my enrollment before I start class? Any advice from experienced teachers would be appreciated!

5 thoughts on “I am so ready for class to *really* start

  1. I think doing the interesting but unrelated tasks is serving an important purpose. You are getting to know the behaviors, skills and limitations of the students at your school. You are learning about the range of knowledge and the range of engagement. I think that you are actually lucky to have this time, so that when you get your “real” class and get going, you will have had some practice and some get-to-know-this-place time. So I would say if things have not settled down, think of it as a diagnostic period and experiment with what works. What engages whom? How can you best cope with the numbers of students in the room? What size groupings works best (pairs, threes, fours)? What do they think is funny?

    When I was working with Durham NC teachers, coping with the unengaged students was the biggest challenge. Trying to decide whether a) to (in some sense) reward the disengagement by giving precious attention to students not participating or b) to give energy mostly to students who are giving energy to the class and deal with the demoralizing aspects of what feels like giving up on some students.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  2. I was reading your blog and realizing your students must be loving math. I would do interesting activities if possible, but start. Usually the beginning is review. Since you have small numbers you can set the tone of the class and practice with them your expectations of group and paired participation. It gives you time to go around, see what they understand, where they need help and be sure they are all working to the level you expect. Then as students add, and they will, you can arrange them so that they are working with students that are already aware of your expectations. Your class should settle close to norm day. Then review the material or have the students you had explain the material you covered to the new students when they come in. You might want to talk to the other teachers teaching your subject and have everyone agree to start and cover the same topics until things are settled.
    I knew you would be great!

  3. I wish I could learn math in your class! I’ll bet the problems you pick are so fun, so interesting, and completely WORTH solving. I could write a book of group-worthy tasks if I got to work with you everyday! Your students are so lucky.Anyhow, you know my passion for all things like this, so here goes my 2 cents. And please ignore at will – I just can’t help myself sometimes…

    So experiencing math tasks like the one you posted is good for all kids — even ones who are in the wrong room. having a revolving door can be a challenge (believe me, by March mine almost came off the hinges, which is so hard when you’re working with 9th graders who really need the extra stability and structure). over time i set the expectation that we work from bell to bell, even when students are coming and going, because our bottom line is learning mathematics and anything that takes us away from that goal is unacceptable (and won’t stand up to argument). you have to set up structures so that that kind of stuff doesn’t interrupt the flow of students’ thinking and engagement. like, I had rule that no one answered the door but me (always someone at the door it seems), and they couldn’t get up and see who it was. they had to keep working on the math. eventually they starting ignoring interruptions and just focused on the math in front of them. also, though you likely know this one already, no one packs up and lines up at the door before the bell rings. no one. you work until the bell rings. then you can pack up and leave. in any case, any time a task/issue/problem could be redirected to the small group then I did that, mostly because I wanted to support my goal of establishing group interdependence and autonomy.

    are you using a particular groupwork method? I did my best to rely on CI structures to solve most of these problems so that I would be free to do the real work of teaching… there’s only one of me, and many of them. I needed them to function well in their groups so that I can always count on them having something important to do and not sitting there relying on me to make my next move. For example, when I had new students I redirected the task of bringing the student into the conversation to the student groups. playing catch up is a losing battle (bring students in where you are, and catch up later – if you absolutely must). students adapt quickly, so it’s usually unnecessary to go back and do everything single thing they missed, if that’s even possible. so, when november rolls around and new students are added to your roll who haven’t been to school yet (yes, happened to me), you can’t take on the work of catching that person up. you can facilitate the process such that this happens within the small group. so when that happened to me, I walked the student over to a group, told them his name, told them to welcome him to our class and explain to him how we do math in our classroom. I told them that within 5 minutes they needed to be back on task, and for them to bring the new student into the math conversation wherever they were. and seriously, i noticed later that the new kid was making the team poster for them! they totally finished their work for the day and they completely rocked it. Aside from the power that comes from placing these responsibilities on students, I really needed to redirect that task because I needed to get back to my job of monitoring the learning that was going on (What are students doing with the task? What mathematics drives their conversations? Do I need to intervene or can I stay back?). in any case, students learned that no matter what they had join the math conversation from the second they enter the room. one time there was some senior kid who skipped his classes and wandered the halls. he disrupted my class every single day by walking by waving at kids or txting them as he walked by. so I made him come in, join a group, and do math in my room. the point is that no matter who you are you or where you’re supposed to be, you have something important to contribute to the conversation and so your only option in my room is to be focused on our collective bottom line: learning math. =)

    kids will respond to this kind of consistency & stability, even when their peers are coming and going. as you well know, having students dig deeply into mathematics problems worth solving is one of the best ways to establish what it means to know, do, learn, and be smart in math in your classroom. once they get it, and it does take time and significant training, then the mathematics will win them over. I could go on and on, as you know, but I fear my time on the soapbox should come to an end. 😛 let me know if there’s anything I can do to help, ask questions about, or help you think through.

    *sigh* wish i were there! =)

  4. I begin teaching class material ASAP, but teach it slowly. I find this sets the tone for the school year, and being able to move slowly in the first week or to helps comfort students who are convinced that they are bad at math/science/school. I think I might be in a different situation than you… Similar demographics and CST scores, but I teach upperclassmen and I tend to get students in the upper third of class ranking. My students may be better able to catch up if they enter the class late.

    I’ve really been enjoying you blog, especially your post about the math self-portraits.

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