Tell me if you can relate…
It’s winter break. You are exhausted. Your year is halfway done. You want to take some time to reset your classroom culture in January and do some meaningful classroom culture building activities, but you don’t know where to start or what activities will truly reach your kids. So many of the classroom culture ideas you find seem more elementary focused and you know your students don’t want to talk about their favorite color or dream job in yet another class.
I’ve been there. As a high school intervention math teacher in historically underserved and marginalized communities, I’ve done my fair share of classroom culture resets at the start of semester 2.
If you can relate to the story above, I’m glad you’re here reading this post because I’m sharing three classroom culture activities to use your first week back in your secondary math class that will help you build positive classroom culture - even virtual classroom culture - and reset for a fresh semester.
Classroom Culture Activity #1: Define and Create Common Expectations
Secondary students intuitively want to push buttons and get away with anything and everything (amiright?). Combine that with a possible history of math class failure and it’s an equation for challenge. If you teach math intervention or students with learning disabilities in math it’s essential that we create a classroom culture with collaboratively defined norms and expectations. I’m not just talking about “don’t chew gum in class” or “don’t sharpen your pencil while I’m talking.” I’m talking about questions like, “what can your peers say (or not say) that help you feel comfortable to share your ideas and answers in this classroom?” Questions that yield answers from students to help your classroom feel like a safe place for them to try, make mistakes, and persevere.
Activity: Take 15-20 minutes to ask your students a question like, “what can your peers say (or not say) that help you feel comfortable to share your ideas and answers in this classroom?” and build a collaborative classroom list for each period.
Classroom Culture Activity #2: Ask questions about their past math experiences
If you are teaching students with learning disabilities in math or you’re a high school or middle school math intervention teacher, our students are coming to us with painful pasts in mathematics. We need to allow them to share those pain points and hear us tell them that we want to be different. That we want them to succeed in our math class this year. This takes intentionally asking students about their past math experiences. Pose a question to your students for a warm up or first week homework assignment asking them to tell you about their math experiences since Kindergarten. Give them thoughtful feedback so they feel known and heard in your classroom. You can also check out these 4 questions to ask your students for some additional inspiration.
Activity: As a warm up or homework assignment, ask your students to tell you about their math experiences since Kindergarten.
Classroom Culture Activity #3: Engage in discourse
Let me ask you two questions:
If you’re teaching remotely, are you tired of teaching to black zoom boxes, not knowing if your students are even there?
If you’re teaching in person, are you looking to engage all students, even that student who often ditches your math class?
If you answered yes, we need to create opportunities in our math classes for ALL students (every. single. student) to enter a discussion. The best activity I’ve seen to do this is “Which One Doesn’t Belong?” because it has multiple (if not infinite) “correct” answers which makes it a safe activity for all students to add their ideas and reasoning. If you are unfamiliar with the activity structure, you can learn all about it on my blog post about this incredible math discourse activity.
Activity: Take 5-10 minutes to introduce the “Which One Doesn’t Belong?” activity structure with non-math examples. Something like logos or superheroes. You can learn much more about creating and facilitating “Which One Doesn’t Belong?” here.
Running Low On Prep Time? (Or Energy?)
If you’ve found this blog post helpful, I’ve got even better news! These three activities plus THREE MORE classroom culture activities are all pre-made for you with PDFs, google docs, and google slides to be a no-prep first week bundle. Get access to the bundle by clicking here.
Included in the bundle is:
Doing & Saying activity (Activity #1)
Student Mathography (Activity #2)
"Which one doesn’t belong?" introduction slide set (Activity #3)
Great wall of inspiration activity… to learn more about your students motivation and create some classroom decor
Respect circles activity… to create a collaborative classroom definition of respect
"Know and wonder" introduction slide set… another amazing math discourse sentence starter and math discourse activity structure
Plus it comes with a schedule pacing offering to help you plan when to do each activity within the first week!
In case you need to hear it, you are an amazing teacher, you are trying your best, and I feel so lucky to be in this community with you.