We’ve been taught to start every school year with getting to know you activities and boring lists of Class Rules (Thou shall nots…) but is is possible to do that using your content? Is is that we are saying to our student inadvertently “Math is so boring that we’re better off building culture before we get to the boring stuff.”

Imagine if you were able to both engage students in your content area while at the same time developing a positive classroom culture, establishing norms, fostering school pride, etc. Why not use your content area as the tool of culture-building, rather than a follow-up to culture-building? Does that have the potential to change students’ minds about your content area? According to Geoff Krall, it does. If students see your content area as a place where you can develop these positive norms, that can have lasting repercussions for your students even beyond your classroom.

“And I wonder if it’s the message your students hear: ‘Math is so boring that we’re better off building culture before we get to the boring stuff.’”

-Geoff Krall

That requires getting students engaged in math (or whatever) on Day 1, not Week 2, on a level that gets them working together.

The article that got us thinking for this episode is called “The “Don’t Teach Them Content on Day 1” Myth” by Geoff Krall. You can find the link to his article in the show notes.

**In a nutshell…**

Setting up the norms: Don’t TELL the norms…BE the norms. Choose a math activity that is somehow directly connected to one of your math content standards. The activity should be low-floor/high-ceiling problem to allow all students access. Discuss your norms within this activity.

An example of this is the Quad Match activity from NRICH. Here are the cards for the Quad Match.

“I’m also not suggesting that you eschew culture-building or norm-establishing entirely, but rather that it be an organic outcome of the student-centered instruction that begins from the first minute of class”, says Krall. This is an important point. Don’t give up establishing norms. Be super intentional about the lessons you take from your curriculum so that you are still able to build up your classroom culture.

So what if you are using programs like EngageNY that seem to have no place for “extra” stuff? Look in the side bars for ideas. For example in Kindergarten, the first module’s first lesson is about looking at similarities and differences. When I was working with teachers, we decided what a great opportunity to practice and introduce partner talk.

I still have questions about the idea of introducing curriculum too soon. Some kids need to build up their trust in you, which goes back to the low floor/high ceiling activities that don’t seem like your normal curriculum. Of course, the trust needs to occur in ALL contexts: non-math and math. We need students to trust us in a math setting, so we might as get started building that trust on Day 1.

In building those classroom routines, establishing norms, and learning names, we can use our official curriculum. But we can also use other mathy sources, most notably Week of Inspirational Math by Jo Boaler on http://youcubed.org

What are your thoughts?

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