Algebra II : Unit #1 - Culture Building Unit - Welcome to the New Year! : Lesson #1

First Day! Welcome to an EXCITING Journey!

Objective: SWBAT take an active role in shaping the culture of the classroom and learn about the value of the math practice standards.
Standards: MP1 MP2 MP3 MP4 MP5 MP6 MP7 MP8
Subject(s): Math
60 minutes
1 Opening Riddle - 15 minutes


We are going to start the year HOW?

NOTE:   I explain in my video Narrative, A REALLY COOL way to set the tone!, how this first day lesson works for me. However, I recognize that this riddle may not be suitable for everyone so I have provided some Alternative (lateral thinking) riddles and in the lesson resources.

Riddle:  There is a man lying dead in a phone booth.  Both of his wrists are slit.  There is a fishing pole inside of the phone booth with the man.  HOW DID HE DIE?

Only 1 Requirement:  You can only ask me YES/NO questions.


Note:  As you call on students as they ask the yes/no questions, have them state thier name so that you can begin to learn.  It is much more benefitial than reading down an alphabetical list because it personalizes the experiece!  You will certainly have something to remember the students by as you try to learn names.  

Building a Culture of Questioning
High Expectations

I fully realize that kicking off the year with a "gruesome"riddle may not be the best approach in your particular classroom.  However, regardless of the activity that you choose, I would encourage you to select one that creates immediate dialogue between you and your students.  If you have a personality like mine, you can be really intimidating to students at first.  It took me 2-3 years of walking into a totally silent classroom on the first day and "boringly" reading over the class rules before I realized that I could establish the culture of my classroom much sooner.  I want to get my students accustomed to asking me questions, being told "no", and building on their failures on their way to constructing understanding.

2 Motivation for Class Norms/Rules - 15 minutes

Aside from demonstrating “grappling with the complexity of mathematics”, problem solving, collaboration and creative thinking, the riddle activity helps to motivate the need for classroom norms and expectations.  During this time, I like to highlight the things that the students did well in their first 15 minutes of class (or however long it takes to compete the riddle).  For example, it is highly unlikely that the students called each other out or said things like “that’s a dumb question” to one of their peers during the riddle.  I provide positive reinforcement of this fact because it models an expectation that MUST be present in an effective working environment – mutual respect.  Throughout the course of the year we are going to engage in math problems and concepts that are essentially “riddles” that we must all figure out together.  Occasionally, a suggestion or attempt that turns out to be incorrect can help us just as much as one that does!  For this reason, I note to the students that I DEMAND that they respect their peers… and I hope to EARN their respect as the year progresses.

*I make sure not to “demand” that the students respect me personally, as research indicates that this turns-off many students (particularly from broken families).   THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT I LET THE STUDENTS WALK ALL OVER ME!  It is just an important approach in the recipe for building relationships and making the students feel comfortable in the classroom – especially when most students DREAD seeing math on their class schedule!  Want to minimize classroom management issues?  EARN the students respect, rather than DEMAND it.  In fact, when this is the case the students will often police themselves!

Following my “mini lecture” connecting the riddle activity to the classroom norm of respect, I ask the students for any other essential elements of a work environment.  Rather than just asking students to rattle off a bunch of responses, I also probe them for follow up details, things that they witnessed during the riddle activity, or positive past experiences that align to their claim.  

Lesson #78 - Guidelines for Success in my Class.docx
Big Names = Big Expectations
High Expectations

I have continued to tweak and revise the document that I use for my start of the year rules and expectations.  Rather than providing the kids with an extensive list of Do's and Don'ts I have found it beneficial to include famous quotes and slogans that help to shape our culture.  The quotes from influential figures helped to generate discussion and add validity to what I hope to build.   I choose not to focus on rules, but rather highlight critical elements of our classroom culture.  It is my approach that a strong culture doesn't need an extensive list of rules.  A strong culture is guided by high expectations and accountability.  Obviously, with this said, different types of classes need different types of rules interventions. 

Attendance and Discipline Tracker
Rules and Consequences

Attached you will find a document that I use to track attendance, tardies, and discipline in my classroom.  This document is something that I open up at the start of the period, and leave open the entire day as I add changes and notes to it.  I have found it especially handy for making notes about students, and keeping track of tardies.  It is also very helpful when it comes to conferencing with parents or students (which can also be documented on the spreadsheet).  As 21st century teachers, it is not uncommon for us to gather data on our students academic performance.  However, what is slightly more uncommon is when we gather this type of data.  It has been a very handy tool for me,  I hope you will find it useful too!

3 Mission Statement and Slogan Activity - 15 minutes

As we close our first day together, I group the students in groups of 4-5 (simply by who is sitting around them) and assign one final task.  The hallmarks of many good businesses are powerful mission statements and/or catchy slogans.  I provide the students with a few examples shown in the PowerPoint slides attached as a resource in this lesson.  

After playfully having the students guess the slogans on the slides, I send them out to create mission statements and slogans of their own; which we will later vote on one to adopt for our class.  It won’t take long for the creative juices to start flowing! 


“We’re Mathically-Delicious!”              (based off of Lucky Charms “Magically Delicious” slogan)

“So easy 2nd Period could do it.”         (based off Geico’s “So easy a caveman could do it” slogan)

"Grab life by the lines."                      (based off Dodge Ram's "Grab life by the horns" slogan)      

Once each group of students has completed their slogan selection, they should also work on writing a 2-4 sentence mission statement for the class this year.


As the class, ends I collect the mission statements and review them before selecting the top three (that I choose) to be voted on tomorrow to select the best in class.  This slogan will be printed with a corresponding picture/logo of the aligning business slogan.  The mission statement will also be printed and signed by all students in the class.  I laminate both documents and post them on the wall outside of my classroom as evidence of a strong classroom culture.  The students see it every day before they enter, and I occasionally reference the slogans when I get excited in class - - “So easy second period could do it!”

Sample Missions and Slogans
Student Ownership

I have shared* some sample mission statements in this reflection. These were a lot of fun for the students to create, and they love comparing their work to the mission statements of the other classes.  It was a great way to build bonds between students and lay the framework for a classroom culture.  Additionally, these mission statements hang in the hallway directly outside of my classroom door, which a great way to share with the greater school community.

Looking forward I am plan to improve on this activity and do something a little bit different.  I would really like the students to incorporate mathematical vocabulary into their missions and slogans.  This will help to show me what they know, and how comfortable the students are with speaking mathematically.  I am hoping to be pleasantly surprised by the students prerequisite skills as the language of the Common Core manifests itself from year to year. 



*I overlaid the mission statements on top of each other only to mask student names.


Extra Time? Try this "Ideal Teacher" Activity
Trust and Respect

Have additional time in the first lesson of your year?  I have just the activity for you!

This year, I found that I had additional time in my class period, so I utilized (in reverse) an activity that I picked up at a professional development session.  At the session, we were asked what our "ideal student" looked like.  We drew a rough sketch (and I mean rough!) of the student with items and character traits that were essential to his/her sketch.  I surrounded my student by qualities such as "Strong Work Ethic" - "Collaborative" - "Tech Savy" - and "Resilient"... (with many others, of course).  After creating a quick picture of this student on the board, I explained to the students that I wanted them to think about the qualities of their ideal teacher.  Although this might seem a little risky, the students really do a good job of being honest and this models to them that you are taking their needs into consideration.  If you are willing to give it a shot, it is an all around great activity!