"There is no one way"

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

First Day of School

For most of you, school started recently, or will start soon.  For me, this is the beginning of the third year of my retirement, and I'm starting to get used to the weirdness of my new life.

It turns out that August is by far the most intense work month for me, because that's when I teach my multi-day workshops. For me as the presenter, those consist of an exhausting (but satisfying) dawn-to-late-night schedule, every day, with no prep periods. This summer they also involved a bit of travel: two workshops in Seattle, two in Boston... I'm hoping to do this in the Bay Area next summer, but of course that depends on finding a school or other institution to host the workshops.

Anyway, September is when I can take a break from that madness, and resume a comparatively less intense life of consulting and curriculum development. And as you see, I'm back to blogging!

Today's post is about the first day of school. For who knows how many years, this was my approach:

- Let students sit wherever they want. They are still on their best behavior, either because of having made resolutions to that effect, or just because they are intimidated. Starting on Day 2, I assign seats in a visibly random way.

- To set the right tone, we do math right away. The class is about math, not about getting to know each other, or about rules and expectations. Those things are important parts of the picture, but they're not the main part. I save them for Day 2. 

- The class is about math, but what is math about? In my view, while the topics we'll be studying are important, how we tackle them is even more important. I make sure that the Day 1 activity reflects my values, because I know that of necessity, some of the work we will do later on will represent a compromise with the broader culture, or with the tyranny of "coverage", or just with the reality of teacher fatigue. I try to build Day 1 around a rich activity. Here are the activities I settled on, though of course there are plenty of other possibilities:
- Finally, homework: write a short math autobiography, and set some goals for math this year.

This approach may or may not work for you, as it is highly dependent on personality and school culture, but I thought I'd share my thoughts. In any case, have a great year!


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