As a former middle school math teacher, I understand the importance of building a positive classroom culture. Fostering a positive culture starts with getting to know students, students knowing each other and investing students in learning. Building relationships and investing students in learning should begin the first day of the school year. When teaching high stakes subjects, it’s normal to feel the urge to dive right into content and weave in a few general getting to know you activities. Sometimes the pressure of ensuring that students pass the end of grade assessment causes teachers to place less emphasis on building relationships and investing students in learning from day one. Time often seems to be limited considering teachers have a pacing guide to follow.
Teachers have multiple responsibilities including but not limited to ensuring academic achievement, managing a safe learning environment, creating engaging and rigorous lessons, building students’ social skills, non-teaching school duties, the endless amount of paperwork, fostering lifelong learning and guiding students to become self-advocates. Let’s not forget that teachers are also expected to grow in their practice and become better leaders each year. All of the duties above are necessary and important to push student achievement, but that doesn’t eliminate the stress involved in executing these expectations.
While there is no perfect plan or answer to become an expert in all of these areas, there is a way to simplify execution. The days of a teacher standing at a board for an hour lecturing and students sitting quietly and taking notes are over. Students don’t mind learning about expectations as long as the delivery method is engaging. Teachers have to capture students’ attention quickly and provide activities that will keep them engaged throughout the lesson. It’s essential that teachers take the time to think through their behavior, academic, and investment plan with the same fidelity as a content specific lesson plan. All of these plans will impact the classroom culture and ultimately become part of the classroom vision.
When thinking about a classroom vision, teachers should be intentional with every task even getting to know you activities. For example, at the middle school level, students are expected to have a binder or interactive notebook. Student binders or notebooks are often used to teach organization, responsibility, accountability, note-taking skills, etc. Delivering a mini-lesson teaching students how to organize their binder is great. However, there is a way to integrate binder organization, investing students in math, introducing projects, and building relationships in one lesson. Let’s use an activity called “Getting To Know Me In Numbers” as an example.
Getting to know me in numbers activity creates a welcoming learning environment by providing an opportunity for students and teachers to know each other in a fun way that connects the numbers all around us! Students will also get to show creativity by designing a great cover page for their math notebook.
Create a positive classroom culture by getting to know your peers and teacher.
Introduce students to project-based learning in math.
Establish confidence in oral presentations and communication skills.
Step 1: Ask students to share at least ten facts that describe who they are as a person in numbers. They will choose a minimum of 5 questions from the list below to answer. Allow students to create a set of facts, but require that they include responses to at least five questions from below. Set aside time for students to brainstorm ideas before they begin creating the cover.
Here are some examples of questions that students can answer.
● What is your birthday?
● How old are you?
● What is one item that you want as a gift?
● How many letters are in your name?
● How many close friends do you have?
● What’s your favorite book or movie series? How many times have you read the book or seen the movie?
● How many people live in your house?
● What time do you wake up in the morning for school?
● What’s your favorite place? How many times have you been to your favorite place?
● How many minutes do you study each night?
Step 2: Encourage students to be creative in how they present the facts on their notebook cover. Teachers should model the process by creating a cover sharing some fun facts as well. The teacher designed cover should also serve as an example for students that struggle with creativity.
Step 3: Allow students to present their notebook cover to the class. The goal of the presentation is for students to provide the teacher and classmates with fun facts, practice communication skills and execute their first mini-project of the year. This activity is ideal for in school time or out of school time such as a club environment.
Are you interested in this mini-project? Join our newsletter list to access the student friendly version of the directions. Newsletter subscribers receive new resources directly in their inbox earlier than blog readers. What are some other getting to know you activities that integrate mathematics.