I already know what I want to do on the first day of school.

My (former) students are probably still sleeping on this fine Sunday morning, and here I am, thinking about the first day of school in August.  It’s not entirely my fault.  I just had two days of PD with (THE) Dan Meyer and my wheels are turning.

Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 10.38.10 AMI’ve been an avid follower of Dan’s for years, but having him stop through our district to work with us in person sends a powerful message (in my mind).  We’re all learning how to incorporate PLCs, iPads, and big ol’ district semester “common assessments” (you better “cover” half the curriculum by the halfway point in the school year… or else!) while still maintaining strategies and problem-solving tasks that sometimes make a pacing guide little more than a (theoretical) suggestion.

Having Dan come to work with our math faculty makes me feel like I have been granted permission to do more of what I know works with kids in my teaching.  I feel empowered to set aside the pacing guide a little more, and though time will inevitably *still* be my enemy, I’m not going to let it rule my classroom quite so much, or use it as a reason to *not* do what my kids need.

I’m going to be brutally honest here.  I created this resource two years ago and I have never used it with students.   And that makes me sad.  So, as part of more typical beginning of the year routines, I want to make this task our first assignment of the year.  I want students to start day 1 of my classes seeking curiosities and relevance, making connections to math and “the real world” of a middle schooler, encouraging the simple but powerful idea of questioning, all the while very intentionally introducing a model for problem-solving.

Here’s a sample of “The Math Cam” template at work.  I created it.  It’s time to let kids do something with it.  I can see this as a strategy to use throughout the school year.  I see value in students’ sharing their photos with one another, formulating questions about each other’s pictures… and seeking answers to those questions.Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 10.28.35 AM


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5 Responses to I already know what I want to do on the first day of school.

  1. Nikki says:

    Hi Cathy,

    We have something that came with our curriculum called the 4-step plan, which is just this minus the part where the students come up with their own question. My PLC used it this year for data collection on our student growth goals. I am a first year (for another week) and really struggled using it this year, along with another member of my PLC. It was boring. Students hated it & didn’t see value in it.

    By adding in your step one, making it a five step problem solving process, had me fall in love with it! My students are much more engaged when they are doing a Dan Meyer 3 act lesson because they are answering their own questions. This activity marries the two for me.

    Any advice on what you might do for a student who sits there saying “I don’t know” for step one? In dan’s 3act lessons he says that’s okay. However I don’t want to set a tone from the first day or beginning if school year that just not trying is okay.

    Thanks for sharing this!


    Ps lil jealous you got to meet THE Dan Meyer 🙂 I’m surge a huge fan if both his & yours!! We just don’t have iPads so I can’t use your resources as much!

    • Cathy Yenca says:

      Hi Nikki,

      You got it – the “Four Step Plan”, or problem solving plans like it, are usually found early on in typical math textbooks. Hoping students will find the process more meaningful with contexts they get to choose.

      I like your question about how to handle a student who “doesn’t know” a question to ask. Dan poses his initial question for a photo/scenario that he provides for students a little something like this: “What’s the first question that comes to mind, if any?” My hope is, if students capture their own photo, that they chose to take the photo due to a question they might not realize they were curious about until they form the question in words and record it. For those who don’t have a question, perhaps the first day of school “homework” would be to simply capture the photo and bring it to class the next day. If students exchange photos and write questions for one another’s pictures on Day 2, maybe that will help each student narrow down a question to focus on. Maybe the question they choose is something they’re not yet mathematically equipped to answer – how neat would that be to address in the curriculum at the appropriate unit, and give credit to the student for bringing up such a great question early on!? 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by – would love to continue tweaking this idea before fall, so I appreciate your question very much!

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