cheesemonkey wonders

cheesemonkey wonders

Monday, August 6, 2012

Starting the New Year Right — Buckle Up for Week 1 #made4math

This is my second year at my new school, which I guess technically makes it no longer my 'new school,' huh. *facepalm*

This matters because Year 1 in a new place is always a time of establishing a reputation, but my reputation got totally screwed up last year because this year I am being positioned by the kids as cool flavor-of-the-month "nice teacher" everybody wants to have.

So to protect my street cred, I need to ruin my reputation at the start of the school year — and fast.

"INB Overview" foldable glued into my sample INB
I'm introducing Interactive Notebooks this year in my math classes, so everything during my Week 1 this year is going to revolve around that.*  Day 1 will be my "Introduction to the INB," including The Ceremonial Decorating and Labeling of the INB Cover, The Death-Defying Gluing-In of the Table of Contents (TOC) and other general reference pages, and most importantly, The Making and Filling-In of the "Rules & Parts of the INB" Foldable (photo at right).

This is the most important thing on Day 1 because I am giving a test on the INB Set-Up and Use bright and early on Day 2.

The test covers the six key things about INBs that I want students to have down cold from the start: the TOC, LHS and RHS pages (plus the LHS and RHS acronyms, which will be useful in working with equations and inequalities), The Rule of the Page (i.e., the fact that everybody stays on the same page), The Rule of Attachment (the fact that nobody leaves until (a) everything is glued into INBs and (b) INBs have been put into their zipper bags and hanging files), and finally, the purpose and importance of the Daily Date Stamp.

The message I want to send here is that, in Dan Meyer's words, "We use time well in this class." I also want to communicate that I am a badass unicorn who gives a test on Day 2 on actual material that is vital to your survival in my class and isn't that totally unfair and OMG. So let the word go forth — stay on your toes in my class and do not be fooled into complacency by my seeming niceness or my obviously wrongheaded reputation.

Using the set-up and use of the INB as my core "Day 1 Lesson" also allows me to teach classroom procedures through a foldable, which means that students learn how to use and study from a foldable right away. It also gets everybody onto the same page and creates that sense of shared suffering at the hands of a crazy teacher that is so vital to classroom community-building. ;-)

It also lets me put some teeth into the bellringer activity on Day 2. The test will be time-limited, so there will be no time for screwing around at the start of class.

The test will be a "trade and grade" affair, so that all I have to do is enter the scores into Power School and hand them back. While someone collects the tests, everybody will glue their INB Overview foldable onto page 7 of their INB.

Then I'll stamp page 7 of their INB and we will move on to creating some Chapter 1 pages and getting down to the business of Chapter 1.

DAYS 3, 4, and 5
The Day 2 Test will be taped into the INB first thing after the bellringer on Day 3. Taped in and date-stamped. No monkey business.

These days will cover Lessons 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3, complete with in-class activities and homework. It's important to establish our routine right away so I can jump on any students (and parents) who need a nudge to get with the program. By the time we have our Back to School Night, I expect parents to have seen, signed, and checked a number of activities and documents that will become part of their student's INB.

My thinking about homework is to deal with it separately. I'm going to set up a file box for each class with a hanging file folder for each student. Since INBs will live in the classroom and can only be brought home to study for a test, the hanging file will provide a home for each student's INB Ziploc bag as well as their archived loose HW papers.

To carry materials back and forth between home and school, students will use a two-pocket folder that contains their current chapter HW assignments as well as a stash of binder paper. I want to use the LHS pages for higher-level processing work rather than simply pasting in HW.

That also allows me to use bellringer time for students to do active processing of the previous day's material on their LHS pages. I'll keep you posted on how well this works, and I'll be curious to hear how others deal with the LHS pages.

By the time we reach Day 4, we'll be deep into mathematics. That is the best way I know to communicate my in-class goals and values to students.

More on the opening lessons and materials in my next post.

*I use the acronym INB rather than the more common IN or ISN because my school is acronym-heavy and both of those acronyms already stand for other things at our school. For once, I'm not intentionally trying to be a cheesehead.


  1. At the beginning of last year (which was my second year at the school) some of my former students came up to me shocked that my current students were calling me strict. My first reaction, in my head: "Yes! I'm strict!" My second reaction, out loud: "You remember the end of the year me, at the beginning of the year I had to lay down all those ground rules so we could have a fun class the rest of the year." And the former students nodded wisely.

    I hope you get to experience a similar conversation.

    1. That is a lovely story. I hope I get to have those conversations too!

      - Elizabeth

  2. GREAT! Go get 'em tiger...errr...monkey!

  3. I've been reading all the posts about the first days of school. Your plan comes closest to what I was thinking of doing myself. I'm still trying to figure out the vibe of my new school, though. Good luck, badass unicorn.

  4. I'd made something to introduce INBs... but now that's getting thrown out. This is way better. Thank you!

  5. BREAKING: I created a HW assignment to get students into the mindset of reflecting on what they are learning. It's on the Math Teacher Wiki at:

  6. I LOVE your ideas for the first days. I also am considered to be the "nice" teacher, and I have been trying to change that part of me for a couple of years now. Given up on changing that part of my persona, I now strive to make sure students know how we have an important job to do and every single minute counts. Thanks so much for sharing. Your ideas on reflecting~brilliant!

  7. Love this! I also feel like I've become the "nice" teacher. However, I am at a "new" school that I was actually at 2 years ago, but all those kiddos have moved onto HS so I'm going to start as the scary strict teacher as well :)

  8. Hi! My biggest issue with interactive notebooks has always been the homework issue. If students can only take their notebooks home to study for tests, what do they do when they are completing their homework and have a question, but their notebooks (with their notes) are still in the classroom? Any advice would be great!

    1. At the beginning of the year, in addition to the notebook itself, I require students to have or get a 2-pocket folder to carry loose stuff back and forth from home. In the beginning, I only allow them to take their 2-pocket folder out of the classroom. But gradually, as they get the hang of hanging on to their INBs, I will allow them to take the whole notebook home.

      But for the first month (at least), they have to shuttle loose papers back and forth in their 2-pocket folder.

      I have also allowed students to take a cell phone photo of their notes in case they need the information from the day's classwork. That way the INBs stay where they need to be and become a habit.

      Hope this is helpful!

      Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf)

  9. I liked what you wrote about your first week of school plans, but I did find the "nice teacher" comments interesting. May I share a bit of my own story? I, too, am known as the nice teacher which is why I don't get as much taught as the others in the building. Is that a problem? Sure, but I am not known for being "nice" because I let my students off the hook. It's actually for another reason all together. Up until 15 years ago, I had the reputation for being the "badass teacher," but something happened. I had a very, very difficult class that year, and no matter how strict I was, I couldn't reach these kids. Most of them hated school, refused to do homework, stole anything that wasn't nailed down, and bullied the weaker students. After a few weeks of "knocking heads" (metaphorically speaking), I realized I was going to have to change something if I was going to get anywhere with this class. I started praying for an answer. I came to realize that while I could have high standards for behavior and academics, my tough little group of 38 students were not going to learn much that year. I had to find some way to reach them. The answer became clear to me when I had one of my students stay after school. He and I called his mom for permission for him to stay. He became so angry that he screamed at his mom and tried to bully me. I stayed calm and explained that we could either work together after school or I would visit him at his home to help him understand the math concept. He looked at me like I was crazy. I smiled at and told him he had two choices. It was up to him. He didn't want me to go to his home, so after school, we sat down and worked together on the math lesson. He needed to know that I cared and would help him. It wasn't easy working with him that year, but his mother thanked me at the end of the year, saying that she couldn't keep him home when he was sick because he loved school so much - a first in his whole academic life. It was this year that I began to think of my students as individuals - not a "class of students." From that point on, things began to change for me and my students. I learned to treat my students as individuals which meant there was no one ruler to measure each student. This thinking changed my responses to my students and in turn began to change theirs. Now, the principal tends to assign me the difficult students, the shy students and the struggling students, but I don't see them this way. Usually, by the end of the fourth month of school, all of these students are thriving - not because I am an excellent teacher, but because these kids need something more than just math or language concepts. Sure, they need structure and high expectations, but they also need attention, acceptance, and to be heard. Far too many kids drop out of high school because we teachers are far more concerned about teaching concepts rather than teaching children. Yes, it's our job to teach them, but if we don't teach them social skills, help them to be successful academically (instead of labeling them) and see them as individuals (like we do with our own children), then some of them will fall through those cracks that we are always talking about. So, the next time a student or students slap a label on you, be careful that you think carefully of the meaning of that label. Whether it's "Badass" or "Strict" or whatever you have been labeled by your peers, students, and parents, just remember how you would want your own child, or grandchild, or niece or nephew be treated. Kindness and fairness can go hand in hand with being strict. Anyways, don't be too worried about being thought of as being "nice" if you have structure in class, train and retrain your students, hold them accountable without being mean or unkind, and remember to treat your students as individuals. The learning of the concepts will follow. Just an opinion of a 25+ year veteran teacher.

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    Cat Mario Toss The Turtle

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