What Do You Do on the First Day of School?

I know. I know. Too early, right? But Ali Grace is a go-getter.

My contributions:

Help the rest of us out in the comments. What do you do on the first day of school?

2016 Jul 27. A Collection of First Week Activities.

2017 Aug 21. Sarah Hagan has 21 ideas for the first week of school.

2017 Aug 21. YouCubed has its Week of Inspirational Math.

2017 Aug 21. Sara Van Der Werf’s 100 Numbers to Get Students Talking.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Eric Newman

    June 9, 2016 - 3:16 pm -

    I teach 8th grade.

    I’m gonna have them figure out who can make 10 stacks of 13 pennies each the fastest. Then I’m gonna rock their world with the Penny Pyramid at the end of class.

    They won’t be able to wait till Day 2 to figure out how long it took to build that pyramid!

    My first day rules: NO RULES. NO SYLLABUS.

  2. Alli George

    June 9, 2016 - 3:40 pm -

    I always do the Marshmallow Challenge with my kids. Team building, gets them talking, sets the tone for trying/failing/trying again. Plus I can observe group and individual dynamics without them realizing what I’m looking for.

  3. My Ss will join our Google Classroom and then I will push out a short article on Einstein’s brainstorm secret (see below). We will then put the ideas from the article into practice by first working individually on the following problem and then in small groups. Answers won’t be given until day 2.

    “Given a circular pizza, how many pieces can be obtained by making 5 straight cuts? 10 straight cuts? 67 straight cuts?”

    Here’s the article: http://creativethinking.net/einsteins-brainstorm-secret/#sthash.mlLfna4h.Wg8f6NqS.dpbs

  4. I play a game with my students.

    The rules:
    2 students take turns choosing numbers from 1 to 9. Each number can only be selected once. The first person to have exactly 3 numbers that add up to exactly 15 wins.

    We play the game, figure out the strategy, and then try to give the game an appropriate name.

    The name of the game is a surprising discovery and getting there takes a lot of discussion. It sets a good tone for the start of the year.

  5. For my Geometry or Algebra II kiddos I have long used the handshake problem on day one. I find that it is easy to grasp, it is subject to a variety of approaches and it helps set a tone of conversation and collaborative problem-solving. In Geometry especially it also pops up in various forms throughout the year in a variety of different problems like diagonals in a polygon.

  6. In my second year, as I was processing this question of ‘what do I do on the first day?’, I started to write the blog post that eventually became this: https://mathymcmatherson.wordpress.com/2012/08/02/live-blogging-my-first-day-activities/

    In this past moment of writing that post, committing to publishing those words and those ideas for the blog-reading audience really helped me carefully plan out and justify my first day activities, which my past-self was grateful for and still informs my first few days today.

  7. This past year I used a lot of Jo Boaler’s Week in Inspirational Math. There are a plethora of activities that can be modified to different grade levels (generally intended for 3-9th I think). It brought a lot of great opportunities for collaboration and discussion into my classroom right off the bat!

    (https://www.youcubed.org/week-of-inspirational-math/) –> Totally free, just have to register!

  8. In precal, I spend about five minutes going over syllabi and class expectations (be responsible, be respectful, be edifying). In calculus, I spent about two minutes doing this, because they all had me the year before. Then I start teaching normal content – precal gets a review of functions and calculus talks about limits. Although reading through the comments, I’m liking the idea of talking about mindset!

  9. I’ve also done stacking cups on the first day of school and Life-Size Jenga from Dane Elhert (http://wmh3acts.weebly.com/life-size-jenga.html).

    The students have also completed different Desmos activities. Central Park is a good first day for HS math.

    Instead of a presentation for the syllabus I’ve assigned a syllabus “scavenger hunt” that is a Google form with questions to make sure students have reviewed the syllabus on their own.

    This year I *might* try to facilitate a BreakoutEDU. I’ll probably do it the second day of school with hopes it leads to team building and gives me a chance to see how students work in groups. (http://www.breakoutedu.com/).

  10. Myra Deister

    June 9, 2016 - 7:27 pm -

    I use the Who I Am activity usually with a twist. The students make a video of themselves answering one of the following questions (their choice):

    1. Why is it important to you to challenge yourself in math?
    2. Describe your favorite math experience and why was it your favorite?
    3. Describe a time you are especially proud of where you challenged yourself and explain why you are proud.
    4. “I like mistakes because…”
    5. “Math is important to me because…”
    6. Describe a time where you struggled with a math concept and explain how you responded.

  11. Amanda Haskell

    June 10, 2016 - 4:12 am -

    Next year we are doing district wide mindset work, however, in the past I have always done “would you rather”. I started with silly ones, then move to math oriented ones! Students open up real quick if they have an option to choose!

  12. I love the traffic jam task. Promotes team building, problem solving, and is easily transitioned to groups of n people on each side to intro algebra.

  13. In high school I used to ask “what do you want to be when you
    grow up?”, which didn’t work out too well. So now I ask ” what is your pet peeve?” ( I write it down on the attendance list) Gets me to know them a little deeper, some more than others. Then the last day of school I ask them if they remember what they said, which gives a few laughs.

  14. Amy Cappiello

    June 10, 2016 - 3:57 pm -

    I have done the cup stacking to start Algebra 2, and the kids love it. It breaks the ice and has them collaborating and reviewing algebra 1 right at the get go. In my calculus class, I break them into groups and choose one person from each group to put his back to the board. I then go through a series of functions that group members describe so that the person not looking can draw it. Also a great ice breaker and review of functions as well as an activity to use math vocabulary and for me to gauge what they are coming in with.

  15. Do a simulation with Monty Hall’s Let’s Make a Deal. Play the game a few times with the kids. Then, have them play the game in pairs. Have half of the pairs you the Stay strategy and have the pairs use a Switch strategy. Get a simulated probability of winning for each. Then, discuss the theoretical probability and why it is always better to switch.

    Here is a great video explaining it.

  16. Chester Draws

    June 10, 2016 - 11:37 pm -

    HL — very similar to you. We get into it straight away, because I want to set an expectation that Maths is about Maths.

    That said I almost always end those initial periods with something different. They aren’t yet back into concentrating for long periods, so we wind down a bit early.

  17. Don’t forget that the students want to know something about you too! I stole this from the teacher of the year here in VA:

    PICK THE LIE: He would put a slide up on the board with cool/crazy/interesting things he had done (run the Boston marathon, went on a 10 day dogsled trip) with one of them made up and ask the students to pick out which one was made up.

    Different things stand out for different students, but they remember things from the slide. It’s great becomes it gives the students hooks to start to get to know you.


  18. Sandra Baggett

    June 13, 2016 - 11:50 am -

    7th and 8th grade:
    Use four 4s to make equations equal to each number 1 thru 20. I also introduce a growth mindset. I use material from youcubed.org

  19. Changes year to year, but here are the must-haves for my first day activity these days in Math:
    – problem-based learning (even better if it’s 3 act math style w/ a hands-on data collection/measuring component)
    – students placed in visibly random groups
    – groups solving on vertical non-permanent surfaces
    All of which sets the tone for the most important routines & structures in my class for the semester.

  20. With the perspective of students of boring classes:
    – sitting
    – say “yes” in attend list
    – presentation of Mr X: name, email, etc.
    – Mr X says to us that his topic is subject is the best of the world.

    What do students do in first day in school *in interesting class*?

  21. For the fist day of school, I like to use some problems that would require students to work in groups and have them solve on the windows or whiteboards because it gets them up and moving. They also have to create their own word problem and go and solve another group’s.