Math = Love: 2017

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Printable Gameboard for Traffic Lights

As school starts this week, I'm looking forward to teaching my new 9th graders (yes, I am teaching 9th graders for five of six periods again this year) to play Traffic Lights. As I wrote in my giant 21 Ideas for the First Week of School post, I learned of this game from Julie Morgan who learned of the game from NRICH.

Not familiar with how to play? I'll let Julie explain!

Image Source:

Last year, I tried this game on the fly, so I ended up using the game boards I created for Rainbow Logic to play this game. This year, I decided it deserved its own set of game boards. :)

Here's what I came up with:

I printed the game boards two to a page and laminated them so my students will be able to play with red/yellow/green bingo chips. 

Another way I'm changing things up this year is demonstrating how to play the game using my SMARTBoard instead of my document camera. I made an interactive version of the game using one of my favorite SMARTNotebook tools - Infinite cloner! I will let the class work together to try and beat me before they ever start playing their own partners.

You can download the file for the gameboards and the SMARTNotebook file for the drag and drop version here.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Interview Process and Video

Last week, I went through the day-long interview process for Oklahoma Teacher of the Year. I loved having the chance to talk about my favorite teaching ideas and the process I go through to create memorable experiences for my students, but an entire day of making small talk was exhausting for this introvert.

It was great to get to meet the other eleven finalists. Everyone was super nice and supportive. As we each returned from our interviews, the rest of the finalists would cheer. Even though we are all competing against each other for the same honor, it didn't feel like that at all.

The interview process consisted of two fifteen minute individual interviews and one group interview. My first interview went SOOOO well. I got a chance to talk about what I love most: teaching. I even got a chance to teach the panel of judges how to play Slope Dude Says. At the end of the interview, one of the judges thanked me for the fun experience. At lunch, one of the judges from that group came up to me to say that I had done a great job in my interview that morning.

My second interview went well, but I didn't feel like I had the chance to really showcase who I was. The questions they threw at me were kinda controversial. I felt like I did a good job answering them, but I didn't really get to spend much time talking about what I love: teaching.

The last interview of the day was done Miss America Style. All twelve finalists were seated at the front of the room. The 19 judges were seated at desks in the Senate's Caucus Room. (The interviews were held in the Oklahoma State Capitol.) We each took turns going to the center of the room, drawing a question from a fish bowl, and answering it in a microphone in sixty to ninety seconds. The purpose of this interview was to gauge how well we would be able to answer questions thrown at us by reporters if we were teacher of the year.

After the group interview was finished, the panel of judges convened to choose a winner. Unfortunately, we don't get to find out who that winner is until September 19th. I'm so thankful to have been able to make it this far in the competition. I did my best with my interviews, and I know that the outcome of this competition is entirely in God's hands. If it is His will that I be Oklahoma's Teacher of the Year, He will make it happen. If He has something else in store for my future, He will make that happen, as well. Knowing this going in helped to take away a lot of the pressure I might have felt to try and "perform." Instead, I just decided to show up and be myself. After all, God's the one who made me exactly I am.

In addition to our interviews, the judges also had access to our portfolio which contained our resume and seven essays and a ten minute video that we had to submit. One of the judges told me that he had watched each finalist's video three times. Let's do the math. 10 minutes per video * 12 finalists * 3 times each = 6 HOURS of watching videos! That is dedication right there. When I told him that, he responded that he is a superintendent and wants to take the best ideas back to his own teachers. How awesome is that?!?

Shaun and I had to put together this video while we were in Australia with limited internet access. Even though the process of making the video was hard, I'm super proud of how it turned out. My superintendent mentioned the video at our all-district meeting on our first professional day, and lots of coworkers were interested in seeing the video. If you're interested as well, I'll post the video below. If you're reading this through RSS, you may need to click through to see the video.


Lastly, I want to say a HUGE thanks to the MTBoS. Thanks for all the support! I wouldn't be the teacher I am today without my online math teacher friends. :)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

SI Base Units Posters

Another day. Another poster. I guess that must mean it's back to school time. I'm teaching chemistry for the first time this year, so I decided I need to up the number of science-y posters on my walls. Last year, I found out I was teaching physical science at the last minute, so I didn't really have the time to make any posters or the wall space to hang them.

I decided the perfect place to start was with the basic SI Units. I did some googling and found a really cool circular graphic on the website of the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures.

Image Source:
I knew that I wanted this graphic to somehow be the center of my poster. I made mini-posters with each unit type, and I thought that I would arrange them like spokes. 

When my husband saw my poster arrangement, he suggested that I arrange them horizontally instead. 

I wasn't totally sold on the idea because I was still envisioning them as spokes on a wheel.  

However, when I got to school yesterday to hang up my new posters I realized that there really wasn't anywhere to hang a giant wheel of SI Units. So they did end up getting hung horizontally. :) 

Want the files for these posters? I've uploaded them here

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

OK Graphing Posters

Today was definitely not my day. Our first professional day is tomorrow, so I decided it would be wise to go into school early today to try and get used to the fact that summer is over. After a bit of chatting with coworkers, I went to my room to send an e-mail. I turned on my computer and waited and waited and waited and waited. Nothing. 

Now that I've moved classrooms, my husband's classroom is just across the hall. He is way more computer savvy than me, so I asked him to come and look at it. After examining it for a couple of minutes, he told me it was time to text our tech person. My computer was DEAD. When our tech guy arrived, the case came off the computer to reveal that my motherboard had exploded. 

This is the second time in my teaching career that I've had a motherboard explode on my computer. Good news: I backed up ALL of my school files before summer break. Bad news: My district is currently under a spending freeze. So, I'm not sure if I will have a working computer when school starts on Monday. Our tech guy is doing everything he can, but I'm realizing that I may have to take my laptop to school for a while.  

Even without a computer, I was able to get quite a few things marked off of my to-do list. The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek List Making System has been a real game changer for staying organized and productive lately. 

Then, my clumsy self managed to burn three of my fingers with hot glue while re-gluing a magnet on one of my displays. This led to me standing in the bathroom with my hand running under cool water and crying my eyes out while band students walked by and gave me strange looks.  

And, to top things off, I got a text from my mom to say that my grandma is in the hospital. 

I'm definitely hoping for a better tomorrow. 

This weekend, I designed a few new posters for my classroom. It was so rewarding to see how they look up on the wall. Today I want to share the files for one of those posters. 

The TULSA acronym was shared with me by @druinok. Last year, my students were always forgetting to label their axes or title their graphs, so I knew I had to take proactive measures this year! 

T - Titles
U - Units
L - Labels
S - Scales
A - Accuracy

For the record, Tulsa (the second largest city in Oklahoma) is 41 miles away from Drumright. I realize it might be weird to hang this up in your room if you're not near Tulsa, but I'll post the file anyway. You can always use the template to make posters for your favorite graphing acronym. 

I'll be back soon with more posters! :) 

Download files here

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

An Invitation to #Teach180

Reality is starting to sink in. School is starting. Soon. For some of you, school has already started. For others, you'll be soaking up summer until Labor Day has come and gone. Or, maybe you teach outside the U.S. and are currently in the middle of your school year. Whatever your situation, I want to invite you to join in #Teach180 this year.

So, what is #Teach180? Let me give you the history of how this hash tag came to be.

For years, many bloggers (in the MTBoS and outside of it) have kept 180 blogs. The idea behind these blogs is to write a short post each day containing a photo of one of the day's activities with a short description. Though I've always liked reading these 180 blogs, I knew that there was no way I could commit to writing a blog post every single day. Some of you may be thinking "Sarah, but you do often blog every day." Except I don't. Usually, when you see me go on an every day blogging streak, many of those blog posts have been written on the same day and scheduled to post so it *looks* like I'm blogging every day!

Two summers ago, I decided I wanted to take the general idea behind a 180 blog and turn it into something that would work for me. I was also wanting to become more involved on Twitter, so I decided to smash 180 blogs and twitter together. This produced the #Teach180 hash tag. You can read my very first post introducing the idea of #Teach180 here. The experiment has been a success! I love taking the time to make a short daily reflection in 140 characters or less. Taking lots of photos means I have photos to insert into blog posts later! And, I've achieved my goal of getting more involved on Twitter!

The idea is simple. Take a photo of a classroom activity each day. Post it to twitter with the #Teach180 hash tag. Need inspiration? Do a quick search of the hash tag to find hundreds of creative and innovative ideas. Over the years, #Teach180 has developed into a community of its own. Participants love to see what other participants are up to. I've been so encouraged by the comments and "likes" from other #Teach180 participants.

Have you been looking for a way to interact with the #MTBoS? Have you been convicted to #JustPushSend? Do you want to start using Twitter but are too scared to just jump into a conversation? #Teach180 is a great way to get started!

If you are interested in participating via blog instead of twitter, Julie has a great how-to post. Or, maybe you prefer Instagram to Twitter? Quite a few people have decided to post on Instagram with the #Teach180 hash tag this year. They'd love to have you!

Really, it doesn't matter if you're opening your classroom to the world via a blog, twitter, or instagram. Just do it!

Need more convincing? Check out this awesome article written by some #Teach180 participants! Here's my favorite quote from the article:

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Algebra 1 SBG Skills List 2017-2018

Yesterday, I had the best intentions of compiling a Monday Must Reads post. But, after seven hours hanging posters in my classroom, I just wasn't feeling it. I started to beat myself up before I remembered that my goal for this year is to give myself grace.

As a result, I'm not going to try to catch up today and write a Monday Must Reads post on a Tuesday. I'll just keep collecting great blog posts and tweets for next Monday. :)

Here's a sneak peek at my favorite wall so far. Still have more posters to hang, though!

My husband blogged his newly updated SBG skill lists for Geometry and Algebra 2 today, so I thought I would do the same for Algebra 1. This will be my sixth year teaching Algebra 1. It's our second year using the Oklahoma Academic Standards which were written after Oklahoma adopted and then rejected Common Core.

After my first year of teaching to the new standards, I've figured out what worked and what utterly failed. With those things in mind, I present you my new list of Algebra 1 SBG skills:

UNIT 1 - Expressions
·         I can find the absolute value, opposite, reciprocal, and opposite reciprocal of a number.
·         I can use the order of operations to simplify expressions.
·         I can evaluate expressions. (A.3.4)
o    Include Radicals
o    Include Absolute Value Bars
o    Include Fractions
·         I can evaluate expressions involving non-standard operations. (A.3.4)
·         I can rewrite expressions by combining like terms. (A.3.2)
·         I can rewrite expressions by applying the distributive property. (A.3.2)
·         I can translate between words and algebraic expressions, equations, and inequalities. (A.1.1, A.2.1)

UNIT 2 - Solving Equations and Inequalities
·         I can solve equations and inequalities with variables on one side of the equal sign. (A.1.1)
·         I can solve equations and inequalities with variables on both sides of the equal sign. (A.1.1)
·         I can solve and graph compound inequalities on a number line. (A.2.2)
·         I can solve absolute value equations. (A.1.2)
·         I can solve absolute value inequalities. (A.2.2)
·         I can solve an equation with many variables for one variable in terms of the others. (A.3.1)

UNIT 3 - Relations and Functions
·         I can generate equivalent representations of a relation and determine if the relation is a function or not. (F.1.1)
·         I can identify the independent and dependent variables in a situation. (F.1.2)
·         I can find the domain and range of a function. (F.1.2)
·         I can identify domain and range restrictions in real-life situations. (F.1.2)
·         I can read and interpret the graph of a real-life situation. (F.1.4)
o    Piecewise linear graphs – not step functions!
o    Identify Independent and Dependent Variables
o    Identify Domain and Range
o    Identify Rate of Change
·         I can create a graph to describe a story and create a story to describe a graph. (A.4.4)
·         I can evaluate functions and interpret the results in real-life contexts. (F.3.2)
·         I can write a function (using function notation) to model a real-world situation and use the function to answer questions. (F.1.3)
·         I can determine if a function is linear or non-linear (quadratic, exponential or absolute value). (F.2.1, F.2.2)
o    Emphasize Graphing by Making Input-Output Tables!

UNIT 4 - Linear Graphs and Inequalities
·         I can calculate and interpret slopes and intercepts of a linear function. (A.4.1)
·         I can classify equations as parallel, perpendicular, or neither. (A.4.2)
·         I can write an equation (in slope-intercept, point-slope, and standard form) and use the equation to solve problems. (A.4.3)
·         I can identify and generate equivalent representations of linear equations, graphs, tables, and real-world situations. (F.3.1)
·         I can predict how a linear graph will be transformed when the equation is changed. (F.2.2)
·         I can create scatterplots, determine regression and correlation, and use these to make predictions and assess the reliability of predictions. (D.1.2)
·         I can graph a linear inequality and interpret the solution. (A.2.1)
·         I can write a linear inequality and use the inequality to solve problems. (A.2.1)

UNIT 5 - Absolute Value Graphs and Inequalities
·         I can find the slope, vertex, and orientation of an absolute value relation.
·         I can write the equation or inequality for an absolute value relation.
·         I can predict how the graph of an absolute value graph or inequality will be transformed when the equation or inequality is changed. (F.2.2)

UNIT 6 - Systems of Equations and Inequalities
(With each skill, have students determine how many solutions the system has!)
·         I can solve systems of equations graphically and interpret the solution. (A.1.3)
·         I can solve systems of equations using the substitution method. (A.1.3)
·         I can solve systems of equations using the elimination method. (A.1.3)
·         I can solve systems of inequalities and graph and interpret the solution on a coordinate plane. (A.2.3)

UNIT 7 - Polynomials
·         I can name polynomials according to their degree and number of terms.
·         I can write polynomials in standard form.
·         I can add and subtract polynomials (including when written in function notation). (A.3.2, F.3.3)
·         I can multiply polynomials (including when written in function notation). (A.3.2, F.3.3)
·         I can factor out the GCF of a polynomial. (A.3.3)
·         I can fully factor a polynomial. (A.3.3)

UNIT 8 - Radicals
·         I can simplify radical expressions. (N.1.1)
·         I can add and subtract radical expressions. (N.1.2)
·         I can multiply radical expressions. (N.1.2)
·         I can divide radical expressions, rationalizing the denominator when necessary. (N.1.2)

UNIT 9 - Sequences
·         I can classify a sequence as arithmetic, geometric, fibonacci, or neither and find the next term in the sequence.
·         I can recognize that arithmetic sequences are linear and write a formula to find any term in the sequence. (A.3.5)
·         I can recognize that geometric sequences are exponential and write a formula to find any term in the sequence. (A.3.6)

UNIT 10 - Data Analysis
·         I can find the mean, median, mode, and range of a set of data.
·         I can determine if a set of data is discrete or continuous. (D.1.3)
·         I can create a data display for a set of data and use it to describe the data set. (D.1.1)
·         I can interpret a data display.
·         I can compare data sets using summary statistics. (D.1.1)

UNIT 11 - Probability
·         I can determine the size of a sample space and use it to calculate probabilities. (D.2.1)
o    Tree Diagrams
o    Counting Procedures (Multiplication and Addition Principles)
·         I can calculate experimental probabilities by performing experiments or simulations. (D.2.3)
·         I can find complements, intersections, and unions using Venn Diagrams. (D.2.2)
·         I can use Venn Diagrams to find the probability of an event (D.2.2).
·         I can apply probability concepts to real-world situations to make informed decisions (D.2.4).

The bold skills are not explicitly required by the standards, but I feel that they are necessary for students to master. I know for sure these won't be perfect either, but I'll wait until next summer to go back to the drawing board. I love that every year I get a chance to be a bit of a better teacher than the year before. I'm always improving, and I'm thankful for each one of you reading this post. You are helping me on this journey to be the best teacher possible. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

My Most-Referenced Math Classroom Decorations

As I start to think about how to decorate my classroom for the upcoming school year, I am reflecting on last year's classroom design. What was useful? What was cute but ended up being a waste of time? Today I want to share the top ten classroom decorations that my students actually used and referenced on a regular basis. In a sense, these are classroom must-haves. These are the decorations that made my students started complaining when I took them down during the last week of school!

Math Symbols Posters - The most referenced symbols on these posters are greater than, greater than or equal to, less than, and less than or equal to. My students know that these are always on the wall to reference whenever they aren't quite sure what symbol they are dealing with.

I actually made more of these posters than will fit on my wall. So, I choose which ones to hang up each year based on which classes I am teaching. You can download the file for these posters here.

Prime Number Banner - My students are frequently asking if a certain number is prime. So, a few years ago I made a prime number banner that goes from 2 to 107. We use this all the time. I even find myself using it! My students have a prime number chart in their notebooks, but it's often quicker for them to just glance at the wall. This poster gets used an extra amount when we are working through our unit on radicals! You can download the file for this prime number banner here

Horizontal and Vertical Number Lines - I love number lines. And, my students really love number lines. I actually have three number line posters hanging up in my room. I have two vertical number lines that are hung on opposite walls. I created the file for this number line myself, and I blogged about it here.

My horizontal number line gets the most use from students. I frequently see them with their pencils in the air as they count off spaces on the number line. This number line was printed from a PDF file created by Frank Tapson. I blogged about the process of making it (and linked to the file) here. This past year, I added positive and negative infinity signs for the first time. You can find out more about those here

Perfect Squares and Cubes - These posters were inspired by Clarissa Grandi. Clarissa used pre-cut numbers to make hers, but I didn't have the patience to track any of that down. So I ended up just creating my own version in Publisher so I could type the numbers on top. I love the color that these add to my classroom. My only complaint is that my students often needed to see if a number much higher than 100 was a perfect square. So, I need to think about how to fix this for next year! Files can be downloaded from this blog post.

Order of Operations - Even though my high school students have been learning about the order of operations since elementary school, I find that they still need a reminder. They are also used to pretty much only seeing problems involving parentheses. So, the fact that we actually do all grouping symbols which include crazy things like absolute value bars, radicals, and vinculums seems crazy to them. This display tries to help with that. You can download the files here.

Horizontal/Vertical Lettering - There is something about the words horizontal and vertical that tricks up my students every year. I've found that the best way to deal with this is to put the words up on the wall with the proper orientation. I could have used pre-cut lettering for this, but I decided to just pick a fun font and print out the letters. You can find the file I created to make these here.

Left/Right Reminders - Some of my students also struggle with left versus right. So I hang up a reminder on the wall every year so it's there for them if they need it. Download here.

Greek Alphabet and Place Value Posters - I'm not sure what it is, but my students are intensely curious about the Greek Alphabet. I put this poster up every time I teach trig since we deal with theta so much. It's also great for showing students where the delta symbol in the slope formula comes from in Algebra 1. I frequently find students just studying the letters randomly. They love to try and pronounce the names of the different letters. You can find the file to make this for your own classroom here.

Some of my students have trouble reading numbers aloud, so the place value posters help with that. I even find myself referencing it sometimes! Download here.

Includes vs. Excludes Reminder Posters - I made these posters to assist my students with graphing inequalities in Algebra 1. My students didn't reference them much at all when we were working on one-variable inequalities. But, they used them ALL. THE. TIME. when we were working with two-variable inequalities. I had a student retaking a quiz on two-variable inequalities during the last week of school. I had already taken these posters down, and the student made sure to let me know how displeased she was with my actions! Download them here.

Four Types of Slope (Adventures of Slope Dude) - I adore teaching my ninth graders about slope every year. I also adore Slope Dude! I made this poster as a fun reminder of the video and a visual reminder of the four types of slope. You can download the file here.

Pythagorean Triples - I taught a trigonometry class this past year. We often found ourselves in the scenario where we needed to do the pythagorean theorem to find a missing side. It was nice to be able to check the triples and see if we could find the answer without actually having to do the pythagorean theorem. You can download these here.

I look forward to incorporating even more math into my classroom decorations in the future! 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

21 Ideas for the First Week of School

As I gear up to start planning the upcoming first week of school, I am suddenly reminded that I never got around to blogging about what I did during the first week of school LAST year in it's entirety. I made a list, and I was shocked to find out that I did 21 different activities last year. I knew we did a bunch, but even I was shocked by that number! So, I've decided to blog about those activities in the hopes that it will inspire me to get started planning for this year!

It is important to note that all of my students did not complete all of these activities. Please, do not try to fit in all 21 activities! I taught four preps last year with some of my classes overlapping, so I had to get creative to keep certain students from getting bored.

Getting to Know You Quizzes - This was my second year to start out the first day of class with a quiz. Be sure to announce to the class that there is going to be a quiz, and it will be graded. Let them panic a bit. Allow them to think you must be the world's cruelest teacher. Then, pass out the quiz.

Here's last year's quiz:

When students insist that they can't possible take this quiz because they don't know you, just ask them to make an educated guess. Usually the siblings of former students do the best on the quiz. I always give a piece of candy or some other sort of prize to the student who gets the most questions right.

I usually give students around five minutes to complete the quiz. Then, I go over the answers. Afterwards, I give students a chance to write a quiz about themselves for me to take. Last year's students thought it super unfair that my quiz was free response when the quiz they were writing for me was multiple choice.

I take each student's quiz after school on the first day and return them first thing on the second day. Students love grading my answers. They are always sure to let me know just how well or how badly I did. Some students are really tricky with their questions, and I frequently get 0 questions right on a students quiz. Kids do get weirded out by my lucky guesses, though. I often heard "How did you know that?!?"

Here's one of the questions I had to answer last year:

Name Tents - Last year, five of my six classes consisted of almost completely freshmen. This meant I had what felt like a zillion new names to learn. Sara VanDerWerf inspired me to have my students make a name tent on the first day of school. For the first week, students would get out their name tent at the beginning of each class period. This made it so much easier to learn names!

Broken Circles - I learned about the Broken Circles activity while reading Elizabeth Cohen's Designing Group Work: Strategies for the Heterogeneous Classroom (affiliate link to 2nd Edition / 3rd Edition).

After reading the description, I knew I *had* to try it out with my students! Cohen notes that the activity was developed by Nancy and Ted Graves who were inspired by activity known as Broken Squares that was invented by Dr. Alex Bavelas. Students are placed in groups of 3-6.  Each student is given an envelope that contains 2-3 puzzle pieces. The objective of the activity is for students to put their pieces together in such a way that each student has a complete circle.  

There are a few specific rules that must be followed. You can read them in the instructions below. 

This activity requires students to cooperate and demonstrates the importance of cooperation in the classroom. One person in the group will receive pieces that already form a circle. However, when the rest of the group tries to make their own pieces into circles, they will be unsuccessful. It won't be until the person with the complete circle decides to give some of their pieces to the other students that ALL of the students will be able to make a complete circle. What an important lesson! 

Here are some action shots: 

You can read the details of Broken Circles in their entirety and get the free printables I created to carry out this activity here

Rainbow Logic - This is another activity I learned about from reading Cohen's Designing Groupwork (affiliate link). This activity requires a gameboard and sixteen colored squares for each student. I also used testing dividers (affiliate link) to keep the grid keeper's board hidden from the rest of the group.

Here's what the gameboard and pieces look like. I have uploaded the files for you to download for free here. The general gist of the game is that one person in the group makes a colored grid in secret.  However, you can't make just any grid.  You can only use three colors, and you must use three of each of the three colors.  And, all of the squares of the same color must be connected by at least one full side. Once the grid is made, the group discusses which questions they should ask to figure out what color goes in each box of the grid. They need to discuss their questions before they choose which one to ask to see which questioning path will hopefully be the most efficient. The goal is to figure out the grid in the least possible number of questions.  

My students really enjoyed this activity. They didn't want to stop until everyone had a turn as "Grid Keeper." You can read more about this activity in detail here.


Build It - I learned about Build It from Stanford's website.  The activity is from the book Get It Together: Math Problems for Groups Grades 4-12 (affiliate link).  

Here are the instructions I used with my students: 

Each student was given one or two cards.  Without showing their cards to their teammates, they had to use their linking cubes (affiliate link) to build the prescribed object.  

I love that this activity encourages students to work together cooperatively to achieve a single, final product. Because each student can only see their own card(s), they need the other students in order to succeed. Students have to have a plan to be successful! My students were so excited when they figured out each puzzle! 

Thirteen - I learned about this game from Julie Morgan's awesome blog. Julie teaches maths in Scotland, and she is always full of fun ideas! Her blog is my go-to when I'm looking for a super short but math-y activity to use with my students. I have to say, though, that I did not realize how much my students were going to fall in love with this game. They asked to play it at least once a week for the entire school year. The gist is simple. Stand in a circle. Choose someone to start. That person can say either one number, two numbers, or three numbers. So, the first person could say "1", "1, 2", or "1, 2, 3." Depending on what the first person said, the second person can now say the next one, two, or three numbers. Play continues around the circle until someone says THIRTEEN. That person is out. Play continues again around the circle until only one person remains. My kids get super competitive with this, and it's so fun to watch them (especially when their strategies backfire!).  

Count to Ten - Issue the class a challenge. They must count to ten as a class. Talking (other than saying numbers) and hand signals are not allowed. Only one person may say each number. No person may say two numbers in a row. If at any time two or more people say the same number, the class must start over at 1. Students find this really hard the first time they do it!  It can take ten or more minutes for a class to get to ten. Usually, one of my students will break the no talking rule and ask the class to come up with a plan. This always ruins the activity. :( 

Left Center Right - Left Center Right (affiliate link) is a quick dice game that my students always love. Our middle school math teacher has played this game with starbursts or other wrapped candy instead of the plastic discs. I had more students playing than the discs allowed, so we used bingo chips (affiliate link). 

One thing I love about this game is that even if you're out of the game, you can still end up winning! It's great for discussing statistics and probability.   

Desert Survival - I learned about this activity from reading Kagan's Cooperative Learning book (affiliate link).  Though, a search for this activity on google shows that it is included in numerous books.  See herehereherehere, and here


Here are the instructions I gave my students: 

I did have to modify the activity from it's published form due to mentions of vodka and cigarettes. Here's my modified version of the story:

As a group, students had to rank the 14 items salvaged from the plane in order of importance for survival.  This leads to some very interesting conversations!

The files I created for this activity can be found here

Guess My Rule - This is yet another activity that I learned about by reading Cohen's Describing Groupwork (affiliate link). Can you tell that I am a little obsessed with that book? It is by far the best book I have ever read about group work!   

You will need a set of shape cards, a set of rule cards, and a piece of yarn or string to make a circle.

Here are the instructions:

One student is chosen to be the rule keeper. They choose a rule, read it, and keep it to themselves. The other students in the group take turns handing a shape card to the rule keeper. The rule keeper must decide if the shape card meets the rule or doesn't meet the rule. Cards that meet the rule are placed inside the circle and vice versa.

The group must work together to figure out what the rule is.

My students ended up spending about half of a fifty minute period working on this activity.

I have uploaded the files needed to create this activity here.

Lonesome Llama - This activity is from IMP. I used this activity with juniors and seniors last year, and they really struggled with it. My students spent a bit over thirty minutes on this activity. Some groups were successful while others ended up giving up. I don't think my students realized just how careful and precise they would have to be with their language and description in this activity. 

Groups are given a deck of cards that are to be dealt evenly between the group members. Each student may only look at their own cards. They may describe their cards in words to the other students, but they cannot let another student see their cards.  

Here's the introduction that should be given to students: In the land where llamas run free, llamas live in fancy houses decorated with wonderful shapes. Most llamas live in houses that look like the house of at least one other llama. Llamas who live in identical houses tend to play together. One llama, however, has a house different from all the rest. This means this llama is left all alone. If you can help find the lonesome llama, perhaps you can introduce that llama to others. 


Students have to work together to determine which llama house is the "singleton." 

If you don't have access to the IMP curriculum, Stanford offers two very similar activities on their complex instruction website: Island Maps and Lots of Dots (must download zip file). Both versions involve challenging students to identify the singleton card.  

Sprouts - Sprouts is a mathematical game that was invented by two mathematicians: Conway and Paterson in the 1960s. I remember reading about this game as a kid in a book of mathematical games that lived on the bookshelf in my family's living room. The rules are easy to learn, and the only things required are something to write with and something to write on. 

For my students, this means dry erase markers and dry erase boards. You can download the rules from nrich. Here is how they explain it: 

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My kids LOVED this activity, and we actually ended up having a Sprouts Tournament in one class that ended with a paper trophy being awarded to the winner! 

Here are some photos of their games: 

Some of my students got SUPER competitive and wanted to try a large number of dots to begin with. Evidence below. 

Make a Million - This is another activity that I learned from Julie Morgan's Fraction Fanatic blog. The hardest part of this activity is explaining to students how to draw the boxes. When I use this again, I plan on making a dry erase template for our dry erase pockets (affiliate link). 

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Usually, the first time we play this, my students place the numbers almost randomly. After seeing how things play out, it is exciting to see how their strategies start to change! 

Two Buckets - Most likely, you've ran across some variation of the two bucket problem at some time in your life. You have two buckets. One bucket holds exactly five gallons. The other bucket holds exactly three gallons. How can you measure exactly four gallons of water into the five gallon bucket. Last year, I posed it to my physical science students during the first week of classes. 

I challenged my students to work together to produce posters describing the process with words and illustrations. 

I have uploaded the file I created for this activity here

Petals Around the Rose - I learned about this brain teaser activity from Annie Forest's blog, and it's been a staple in my classroom ever since. If you're unfamiliar with the game, I have found that the best way to learn is to try your hand at this online version. Five dice are rolled. Guess the score. The only rule is that the name of the game is important.  

If you're curious the score you should guess for the above roll is 0. Why? The name of the game is important. Petals Around the Rose. After playing a few rounds on the SMARTBoard, students start to form theories. I ask them to keep their theories to themselves. Instead, I invite them to test out their theories. I roll the dice again and ask them to inform the class of the score. I won't believe that a student has figured out the secret of petals around the rose until they can get three rolls in a row correct without assistance from classmates. 

When students figure it out, they are sworn to secrecy. They get a membership card for the Fraternity of Petals Around the Rose, and they get to sign their name on a poster that hangs in my classroom. You can download the files for these here

As some students figure out the secret, the other students become increasingly frustrated. It's pretty adorable when the students who have figured it out remind the students who have yet to get it that "The name of the game is important." I have had students leave class and download an app version which they have played until they finally figured it out. Other students like to take the game home and challenge their family members to figure it out. Even though this is kind of a one-off activity since it's no fun once most know how it works, kids still beg to play it again ALL. YEAR. LONG. 

This activity is a definite keeper. 

1-4-5 Challenge - I printed and laminated a set of these brain teasers a few years ago, and they are perfect to pull out when you have five or ten minutes that need to be filled. This also makes a great activity for emphasizing growth mindset during the first week of school. You can download a printable version of this activity and read all the details here

Using these five pieces, I issue three challenges of increasing difficulty to my students. 

First, using exactly one piece, make a square. That's easy enough. Next, using exactly four pieces, make a square. This is a bit tricky, but most students find it do-able. Finally, using all five pieces, make a square. This one is super tricky. So tricky that many students start to think that it must be impossible. Until, of course, one of their classmates figures it out! 

Here are some of my students' attempts: 

Train Game - The true name of the train game is 20 Express (affiliate link). But, it quickly got coined "The Train Game" by my students a few years ago. I received this game as a gift a few years ago, and I knew that I had to use it with my students. 

According to Blue Orange's website, the game has been discontinued. But, they do offer free downloadable game sheets that are the main thing you need to play the game! 

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You will also need a set of number cards to draw from. In the past, I've made a set of these numbers from bingo chips, popsicle sticks, and laminated paper. Whatever you use, you will need forty of them. You'll need the numbers 1-30. Then, you'll need an additional set of 11-19. Finally, you'll need some sort of wild card. In the game, they represent this by an asterisk. 

As number cards are drawn, students must decide which train car to write each number in. Once a number is written, it may not be erased or moved. The goal is to get as many numbers placed in increasing order as possible. The score chart in the middle shows that longer strings of increasing values are worth more points. 

Here's a sample card I've used with my students to help them understand the game: 

My students are usually super confused the first time we play this game. Then, their competitive sides come out! I print out the game cards and slide them into dry erase pockets (affiliate link) to make them easily reusable. 

Traffic Light Game - This is yet another game that I learned about from Julie Morgan who learned about it from NRICH

Here's how Julie explains it: 

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Julie mentioned in her blog post that students will most likely need to see a demonstration game played. I definitely found this to be true! I played a game under the document camera, explaining every step along the way. We used red, yellow, and green bingo chips. I didn't have time to make a special game board for this activity, so we just used our Rainbow Logic gameboards

Once my students caught on to how it worked, they really enjoyed it. I had to keep reminding students that they always have three choices. Place a red chip on an empty square. Change a red chip to a yellow chip. Change a yellow chip to a green chip. The first player to make a move that results in three chips of the same color in a row wins. 

I tried this last year with my lowest level class (Math Concepts) and my highest level class (Trigonometry). My math concepts students struggled to understand and apply the rules correctly. My trig students really got into the activity, and they ended up setting up a bracket for a tournament. 

1-100 Activity - This activity is a keeper from Sara VanDerWerf. Groups are given a sheet with the numbers from 1 to 100. Each student uses a different colored marker. Students go around in a circle. The first student must circle 1. The second student must circle 2. Students can help other students find their number, but they cannot circle the number for them. Groups have three minutes to find as many numbers (in order) as possible. 

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Sara has groups do this several times. Some students (especially if they are in a group of four) might discover a special pattern. 

This is a brilliant activity for showing students what good group work looks like. All students participating. All students helping other students. Total focus. 

Witzzle - Witzzle Pro is a card/dice game that can be purchased from Teaching Etc. I purchased a used copy on ebay. After playing this game with students for years, I decided to turn it into an interactive bulletin board in my classroom last year. 

Each Witzzle card features the numbers 1-9 arranged in such a way that you can use the numbers in any row, column, or diagonal to make every number between -12 and 36 by adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing.  You can change the order of the numbers in the row, column, or diagonal.  For example, you could arrive at 20 by doing (9-5)*4 or 8 + 9 + 3. In the past, I have just projected a set of numbers on my SMARTBoard. This game is the perfect way to use up those last 3 or 4 minutes of class when students get done with things earlier than you expected.  I just call out a number.  The first student to figure out how to make that number yells "Witzzle!" and share the correct solution gets a piece of candy. It makes great order of operations review!

The numbers are hole punched and hung on thumb tacks so that the numbers can be easily rearranged to form a new set of numbers.  I've blogged more about Witzzle here. 

SET - Another one of my favorite math-y games is SET. If you are not familiar with SET, it is a card game that can be played alone or with a group that relies on pattern recognition.  Here's the basic rules courtesy of the SET company. 

Read the rest of the rules here:
Though I now love the game of SET, this has not always been so.  I remember reading blog posts mentioning SET for years.  The SET website has a daily SET game on their website that I attempted one day.  I could not figure it out for the life of me which made me feel like maybe I wasn't really cut out to be a math teacher!  

Link to Daily Set Puzzle:

Thankfully, when I went to the SET session at Math Teachers' Circle, I was seated with a few ladies who already knew how to play the game.  They were SUPER patient with me and let me make mistakes and learn from them.  Once I figured out the rules for the game, I realized it was actually FUN!  

I was eager to share the game with my students once I knew how it worked!  In my own classroom, I have found this animated, interactive tutorial super effective for introducing students to the game.

After going through this tutorial with my students, I prefer to let them work through the daily set puzzle from The New York Times.  This is DIFFERENT from the daily set puzzle on the SET company's website.  What I LOVE about the New York Times version is that it comes in different levels which is great for students who are still a bit confused about how the game works.  

Here's an example of Basic Level 1. As you can see, all of the cards are already the same color.  

And, here's an example of Advanced Level 1.  

I have had some students become super obsessed with the SET game!  One year, I had a student beg to take a deck home over the weekend so she could play with her mom.  

I find that if I teach students how to play SET during the first week of school that it makes a great warm-up or time-filler activity throughout the rest of the school year. 

This concludes my list of every single activity I used during the first week of school last year. Can you imagine how long this post would be if I included every single first week of school activity for my entire career?!? Of course, I left things off the list like going over the syllabus and setting up our interactive notebooks, but I think there's enough information here to keep you busy for a while. ;) Have fun planning your first week of school!