first week of school

And so it begins.

The first week is done.

I am fairly certain that I know the names of all of my new students. I incorporated puzzles and thinking challenges, and we had fun. All in all, it was a good week.

This year I am teaching one grade 6 math class, two grade 7 science classes, and two grade 8 math classes. It was a short week because of labour day, and I don’t teach science every day. My focus for the first 2-3 lessons in each class was games, cooperative strategies, and relationship building with my students. As usual, I took a lot of inspiration from the wonderful #MTBoS crew. Here is an overview of my opening week activities.

In science we played Science Buzz, a form of the game Taboo. One student is challenged with getting his or her team members to guess the word on the card, however there are five “taboo” words that the player cannot use in the clues. I found a free version of this game a few years ago from The Learned Teacher, and I modified the template for my purposes. At that point I taught grades 6, 7, and 8 science, and so I made a version for each grade that focused on the topics from the Ontario Science Curriculum. You can find my versions here.

I also did a cup stacking challenge. Each group of 3 or 4 students was given six cups, an elastic band, and a piece of string for each person. The strings got tied on the elastic band and the students had to pull on the string so that they could manipulate the elastic to move the plastic cups. There were six different challenges for the groups, with each challenge requiring the students to place the six cups in a different configuration. In the first three challenges the students were allowed to talk with each other, but no verbal communication was allowed in the last three challenges. Last year I got this task from the Middle School Science Blog, and you can find the link here.

On Friday I played Science Scattergories with one of the classes. For those who have not played Scattergories, a letter die is rolled and the object is to write a word that begins with that letter for each of the twelve categories on the list. You can read a full set of the game play instructions here. I found this version on the TES site for free. However I wanted all of the categories to be more science-based, so I adapted it and used some of the categories from the original document and added some of my own. I created two science based lists. First I looked for a random letter generator online and thought I had made a good choice. However when we began to play in class the generator kept pulling q’s, x’s, j’s, and other such letters that would have been quite a challenge for my students. I gave up on the digital generator and just wrote a letter on the board for each round. We played each list twice, with different letters each time. The students loved it and I would definitely play again. Perhaps next time I will adapt it for math. You can find my adaptations here.

In my grade 6 math class we played Set. Some of the students already knew how to play and they helped to teach the others. We played the digital version which offers a Set puzzle per day, and you can find that link here. I do have two copies of the card game, but I think I will need to purchase a few more so that each group can play together. In grade 6 I also used Robert Kaplinksy’s Open Middle problem for multiplying a two digit number by a one digit number. You can access that problem here.

In grade 8 we began with Sara Van Der Werf’s 100 Numbers task. The students were so engaged! We also tackled @mathequalslove‘s 2019 Challenge. I couldn’t find a digital copy of Sarah Carter’s 2019 Challenge, and so I had to tweak it from her 2018 Challenge. You can read about and access Sarah’s Challenges here. I also made 6 sets of her Perfect Squares Puzzle and had each group work on it. Again, all hands were on deck as they tried to figure out how to place the numbers. I used another Open Middle problem with my grade 8 students, this time a fractions problem written by Denise White. I wanted to give them some time to work on the answer, and so I left it with them over the weekend and we will revisit it tomorrow. You can access that here.

Finally, in grade 8 we played a little Nim. This was inspired by chapter 10 of Tracy Johnston Zager’s book, Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had. In this chapter she talks about Nim and Nim Train. In the game of Nim each pair of students starts with ten counters. Students take turns removing 1 or 2 counters until the last counter is taken. The person who removes the last counter from the pile wins. I had my students play several rounds until they could begin to determine the strategy. We discussed the strategy and whether it was better to play first or second. I then had my students add one counter to the pile to see if the strategy changed or stayed the same. We tried with 10, 11, and 12 counters, and then discussed what we learned. After that we switched to Nim Train. In this version of Nim the students need to add counters to form a train of ten counters, either adding 1, 2, or 3 counters at each turn. The player to add the tenth counter to the train wins. The students quickly caught on to the strategy for this version of the game.

And that was only week 1.

It will be a great year.

Posted by Ilana Cyna, 0 comments

A Barrel of ….???


Last year, one of the activities I did during the first week of school was called “Barrels of Mystery”. I bought two packages of Monkey Key Chains from Party City, which are basically mini barrels of monkeys. I took off the key chains from the barrels and opened them up to remove the monkeys, and then I used a permanent marker to number each barrel from 1 to 24. Inside of the barrels I put small objects such as nails, rice, dice, coins, paperclips, buttons, marbles, magnets, screws, and yes, I also put in some of the monkeys. Each barrel received a different item except for the rice barrel, which was filled halfway with rice. The students were not told any of the objects that were inside. They had to come up with strategies to identify what was in each barrel and they also had to give reasoning for their thoughts. I told the students that I would not tell them anything about the contents of the barrels, but I would provide tools or objects upon request. They just needed to figure out what to request.

Each student came up and selected a barrel. At first there was a lot of shaking of barrels, and there was only shaking of barrels. Then the students started getting creative. They asked for magnets. They asked for scales and balances. They also asked for empty barrels (and I had kept a few off to the side). They compared empty barrels to their assigned mystery barrels to determine the weight of their item. Once they had an idea of what might be inside the barrel they then asked me for that item and then weighed the item to see if they were correct. I had never done this activity before and I honestly had no idea how successful they would be, but they used good deduction skills and I was quite impressed. I think I will use this activity again this year. If you have any ideas of how to make it better, please send them my way.

You can access the student handout here.

Posted by Ilana Cyna, 0 comments

A Great Beginning

I had a fantastic first week of school. I incorporated some great resources into my repertoire, both internet resources and resources shared through twitter.

For my grade 7 and 8 science classes, I used the Subversive Lab Grouping Game, courtesy of Frank Noschese. His version uses American states and American presidents as two of the categories, which were not as relevant for my students. Instead, I added in chocolate bars (Twix, Aero, Milky Way, and Kit Kat). My largest class is under 20 students (yes, be jealous), and so there was no need to come up with a 6th category. I anticipated the questions regarding Mars – is it a planet or a chocolate bar? Technically, the chocolate bar is called a Mars Bar, but I was going to be lenient with this. As it turned out, that conversation came up, and the students knew that it is correctly called a Mars Bar. I also anticipated some discussion around Milky Way, as it could be grouped with planet names under a “space” category, but the students kept it in the chocolate bar grouping and just grouped the planets together.

For my grade 8 classes, I also conducted an activity on observations vs. inferences. Using this Powerpoint (original source unknown, but greatly appreciated), we talked about the differences between what we know and what we think. Students looked at a series of tracks on the first slide, and shared what they observed on the slide. At first it was difficult for them, as they immediately began making assumptions about the scenario being portrayed. After we shared every possible observation, they then had the opportunity to infer what they thought was happening. We then went to the second slide and third slides, which showed a continuation of the tracks, and went through the same procedure. As a final wrap up, we discussed how these skills are important in the science classroom.

In grade 7 math, the students completed the Fish Dish rich task from Bowland Maths. This activity required the students to help a chef determine the correct order to cook a meal, in the shortest possible time. Many students came up with the correct order, but soon realized that they had not determined the most efficient time. We compared everyone’s answers, and they helped each other determine how they could improve upon their methods.

In grade 8 math we conducted an investigation of the game of Tic Tac Toe, courtesy of Jim Noble from InThinking. The first investigation asked all students to determine the number of ways one could win with the basic 3 x 3 game of Tic Tac Toe. They were then asked to determine the number of possible ways to win in a 4 x 4 grid where four-in-a row wins, and in a 5 x 5 grid where five-in-a row wins. They then looked for the algebraic expression that determines the number of ways to win from the grid size. This immediately had them recall learning from the previous school year. The students then had a choice between two further investigations. They needed to attempt one, but were free to attempt both. One investigation had them determine the number of possible ways to win with three-in-a row, given a 4 x4 grid, a 5 x5 grid, and a 6 x 6 grid. Again, they searched for the algebraic expression, which was definitely harder this time.  The other investigation had them determine the number of possible ways to win with three-in-a row, given 3D grids (3 x 3 x3 and 4 x 4 x 4). I had only a few students attempt this investigation.

I spent many hours this summer researching rich math tasks and assigning them to specific units for grades 7 and 8 that I will incorporate throughout the year. The success of this first week of school has shown me that the time taken to search out these tasks was time well spent.

Have a great week.

Posted by admin in General Science, Math, 0 comments