Recently I have had the pleasure of working with a new teacher. Oh I remember those days! The excitement of starting a new job…the desire to be great. The overwhelming things-to-do list and anxiety that results when well-meaning veterans overshare tips, to-dos, and resources. If new teachers are still anything like I was at the start of my career, they want and need to get those first days just right.
From a math coach perspective, I want the teacher to feel confident and prepared. My advice?
Don’t try to do too many things at once. Focus on building a positive and productive classroom culture. Get to know your students and your outcomes. Let the students get to know you. Choose some tasks or activities that allow you to do that while seeing who your students are as learners. Start with activities that are impactful enough that they could become a routine in your class. Add new ideas and tasks a little at a time. Maybe the advice for my new teacher friend will focus on just that: A predictable and productive start to math class.
A routine start to each class always worked well for me as a teacher. Greeting kids at the door showed everyone I was happy to see them and ready for what the day would bring. Posting an agenda and a list of required materials were both key to starting class off right. Everyone knew where to sit and what they needed to be ready. They knew where to find materials if they didn’t have their own. I often had a warm-up posted or projected and students could begin immediately while I handled attendance. Calm. Positive. Predictable. Minimal anxiety and unproductive behavior as expectations are consistent, reasonable and achievable.
Now . . . what about that warm-up? After a few decades in the biz, I have lots of warm-up ideas. Mystery Number, Mental Math, or Open Middle Monday, Two Truths and a Lie or Too Close Tuesday (estimating routines like Estimation 180). Which one would you rather or Which one Doesn’t Belong Wednesday, Throwback Thursday for retrieval practice tasks, and FUNdamental Friday which usually meant a game-based fluency focus. Days when my need for alliteration wasn’t as strong, I might ask students to find the errors in some given work, identify if a statement was sometimes, always, or never true, or convince me that a math computation was true. I have used cool prompts found on Twitter, daily online games like Set, Countle, and Nerdle, and the mountain of cool and interesting problems related to units of study that you might expect to see from someone who has taught as long as I have. But what if you are new? With so many options and possibilities you need to prioritize. If you try to do too many things – nothing gets done well. My advice?
- Start your class in a routine way.
Be clear about where students need to be and what they need to do to prepare themselves.
If certain materials are always needed, have a plan in place for efficient distribution.
- Choose a number routine or warm-up that allows all students to participate at an appropriate level of challenge. If you don’t know your students yet it must low-risk or easy enough to start, interesting enough to continue, and challenging enough to engage everyone. Consider the ease of getting into the activity. What will students need to begin? What will you need?
- Begin the activity as soon as you can.
Have your warm-up or beginning activity up and ready.
- Try to do too many different warm-ups all at once.
Facilitating a number routine, conversation, or activity takes practice; for the teacher as well as the students. Allow time for the learning community to gain confidence with one or two warm-up routines before introducing others.
- Have students wait for you to do attendance or other housekeeping tasks before they can begin. Consider how to kick start your activity promptly so that everyone is as productive as possible as soon as possible.
- Spend too long on a warm-up. When students are working well and conversations are productive it can be tempting to let the warm-up continue indefinitely. Try to maintain a routine-ish amount of time to work and discuss. Then, choose certain aspects to review or highlight.
One of my favorite new activities to complete with students is All Ten.
It ticks a lot of boxes for a solid warm-up routine, and requires minimal effort to jump in and get started. That is why I am recommending it to my new teacher friend as the first routine to introduce to his brand new group of middle school students.
What is it?
This is an online math game with a new prompt found daily at https://beastacademy.com/all-ten
Players are given four, single digit numbers and are challenged to combine all four with operations in order to find 10 solutions: the numbers 1-10.
Who can engage?
This is an activity for everyone. The numbers are small. Engaging and testing requires minimal risk. Everyone will be able to get at least one correct answer. Getting all ten solutions however, may require some creativity and interesting ideas. Even your most confident learners may find that getting All Ten requires lots of playing around with different possibilities. The sharing out of solutions later, can help everyone get ideas of how to combine numbers in ways they had not considered. Everyone grows and learns but may be learning different things than each other. All students can be engaged at an appropriate level of challenge.
What do we need to get started?
To get started, you need a device and access to the website. You may also require some scrap paper and pencils, whiteboards and markers, etc depending on how you plan to engage with the daily prompt.
How could this look in class?
This is the best part! So many ways!
If students have their own device and internet access, they can all play the game without needing to sign in to the site. Students can jump in and mess around to figure out some solutions. If students do not have access to electronic devices they could be told the numbers to use that day by the teacher. Students can then use scrap paper or whiteboards to play and test and figure out their solutions. This could be done in groups or individually.
If I wanted to promote engagement by all and work in a little movement, I can imagine giving students post-its to write some solutions to post on a class All Ten Solution Board. This could highlight the possibility of multiple solutions and promote student interaction. Another similar set-up might be labeling 10 whiteboards or Wipebooks with the numbers 1-10. When students find a solution they can write it on the appropriate whiteboard. Sticking with the whiteboard idea, I might try students in random groups trying to find all the solutions together. A gallery walk later could allow groups to compare solutions and get new ideas for next time.
If a lot of movement would be challenging with your group, I can imagine giving students a recording tool like this worksheet I whipped up. As with the ideas above, the challenge of the game can move beyond finding All Ten. Students can try to find multiple solutions or challenge themselves to write their work as one expression (following the rules for order of operations).
While messing around and finding solutions is very satisfying and engaging for students, the consolidation too can be really impactful. Think about how you can maximize the wrap-up. Don’t skip it! I have tried a few things. I have projected my screen and asked students to share a solution they found. While doing this I try to showcase for students the possibilities for engaging with the game and the ways to challenge yourself. For example, students could enter the entire expression, which uses all four numbers, at once. This requires that they be mindful of order of operations. If students are not yet ready for this level of challenge, the game allows a computation at a time to occur and then combines your steps for you at the end generating your all-in-one expression. The numbers given can be combined as digits in a new number which some students need to see to understand. I wonder out loud things like, “Do you think we can write this as one expression? How?” “Do you think we can find all ten together?” If we need a further challenge it might be, “Do you think we can find more than one way for each solution?” With some students I have asked, “Can you find all solutions only using add and subtract?” or “How many solutions can you find if you have to include division each time?”
This All Ten challenge could happen occasionally or daily. While I might use it as that predictable start to class, I can see it used other ways too. A new teacher with new students may need time to sort out the timing of their daily class lesson. Having All Ten in your backpocket as a just-in-case activity option is great when you find yourself with an unexpected extra 10-15 minutes.
If you plan to engage regularly, and your students like to compete, set it up as an individual or a whole class challenge; class versus another class or group versus group. Classes could try to begin or keep their streak of finding all ten over the course of a week. Consider your learners and see what makes sense for your class. Remember, we wouldn’t want to highlight achievement differences between individual students but would like to celebrate creativity and promote teamwork.
Why do it?
As noted already, warm-up routines provide a nice predictable start to class that engage and challenge students. This one in particular has a low floor – high ceiling aspect that makes it appropriate for all learners. Unlike many other daily online math games, this one allows students to make fractions and use negative numbers. There are so many ways students can play, persist, and prove while building number sense, confidence, and having fun.
Since All Ten provides a new set of numbers daily, there is minimal prep required by teachers. While some teachers prefer to have all solutions worked out ahead of time – this is a fun one to let your students take the lead. If you don’t have all the answers you can’t be overly helpful!
There are lots of warm-ups and number routines that work so well in middle school classes. Once you know your students and identify their learning needs, other starters may become part of your regular repertoire. But this one, All Ten, is my pick to start. The easy access, minimal prep, and appropriate for all aspects make it a safe and impactful way to play with numbers and have some fun. Isn’t that the best way to begin with a new group? Try it! I think you’ll agree that this is a perfect way to kickstart your math class.