My Week 1 Math Posts – plus something new

It is that time of year again when we are all heading (or about to head) back to work. sunday of summer I’ve been getting lots of requests for some of my prior posts – many of which apply to back to school, so I thought I would put them all in one place and also add 1 new resource at the very end of this post. (scroll all the way down if you want to start with a new resource you’ve not seen on my blog yet)

I have have written 15 week 1 blog posts so far – CRAZY – though not surprising. Weeks 1-3 are the most important weeks to get right.  If I do, the rest of the year and ultimately my students success in math follows.

I have two week 1 posts that have a ridiculous amount of views – I can’t believe how many of you have tweeted me photos of you using these 2 resources.  (I love the tweets & pics by the way –  keep them coming – they make me want to blog more) I highly recommend everyone doing both of these things week 1.  My most viewed 2 posts are listed first.  I’ve also included 13 other posts I think pertain to the start of school.

Name Tents with Feedback

name tentI’ll be up front and say this takes a commitment of a big chunk of time week 1, but it is so worth it.  Not only does this help you learn names & learn about your students, you also have  a chance to communicate with every single student each day for 5 days.  It is the key to beginning of the year relationship building.  By the way, I recently found this post from Rachel Rosales on the same topic, written years before mine.

100 Number Task – Modeling Group Work

group work day 1 gr 7This task is a safe task to use week 1 to help students name what great group work looks like.  I’ve heard of people using this task with students in grades 3/4 through high school.  I highly recommend taking photos to share with students after doing this task.  (I explain why in the post).  I’ve loved all the photos people have taken during this task – with out much effort – the task does the work for you – your groups will look like the one above.

baby lemon 1What is math & what do mathematicians do?

If I could recommend you read just one of my start of the year posts it would be this one.  This post is the framework for how I plan my math lessons/tasks week 1 of school (and ultimately all school year).  I believe you must start the year making sure your students all have a common definition of math and what mathematicians (and your students) will do all year.  I’ve included lots of ideas/resources for what this could look like in your classroom.   If you read this post you’ll also see why I start the year using this GIF of a baby eating a lemon.

My speech to myself at the start of the year.  

chairsThis is my most recent post and includes the mindset I want to enter the school year in so that I build relationships with my students.  It starts with a quote from the Oprah show – what more do you want.  You can also read about why I am posting this picture of chairs near my desk this school year.


me on escalatorMy ideas on a growth mindset and persistence

A growth mindset has been a hip topic in math classrooms the last 5 years.  Over this time I’ve come to believe that fewer things done well is better than a bunch of random things.  If you want to see what I do and have my best resources for this, read this post.  Note – I tend to do this week 2, 3 or 4 versus week 1.  I do some things week 1 around this – but that is connected to my ‘what is math post’ and then I do these things.  Read this post if you want to know why I am sitting on the escalator or why I have a picture of a beagle in my classroom.


solve featuredWhy I give my students a system of 6 equations on day 1

Ok, I know this freaks some of you out – but read my post to find out why I do this.  I’ve done this with a lot of success for many years.  It is not the only thing I do – but it is one of 3 things I normally do on day 1.



A peek inside my classroom!

If you want to take a video tour of my classroom – this post if for you!  I also share my favorite organizational tips I’ve learned over 25 years of teaching.

How I introduce the graphing calculator and Desmos week 1

Top 10 thingsI have 2 top 10 lists I share with students week 1 of school.  One list is for the TI-84 graphing calculator and one is for Desmos.  In my classroom we use both all year and I have found introducing this top 10 list leads to students using these without having me to answer all their questions.  A little time invested up front in the school year saves me a ton of time later.

FEATURED DES IMAGMy week 1 Desmos Homework Assignment.

I titled this post ‘Desmos’ is the new back of the book.  I love, love Desmos.  I want my students to love it too.  More importantly I want to empower my students to use it on their own.  This is the homework assignment I use at the start of the year to make that happen.

Setting up Sub Plans

If you are smart – you will set up an emergency sub plan as you go back to school.  If you need resources and templates for doing so, check out THIS post.

Posts for setting up my classroom

360 mnThe one and only collection of things I put on my walls is a collection of #mathfails.  I have over 300 possible images for your walls found in these 4 posts.

#mathfails set 1

#mathfails set 2

#mathfails set 3

#mathfails set 4

IMG_3477You must make space for a play table in your classroom.  I HIGHLY recommend you set up a place in your room for students to just play with math.  Seriously, you need to do this.  Channel your inner Christopher Danileson and set up a mini Math On-a-stick (math experience here in MN at our state fair) in your classroom.  Read my post found HERE for why and lots of ideas.

student solving 2I also HIGHLY recommend setting up a place to do math – just for fun in the hallway.  I experimented with this during the 2016-17 school year and loved watching loads of students (and adults) stopping and doing math & not because anyone was making them.  Read this post for more and resources to get you started.


31 days featured imageI also recommend setting something up in your classroom to remind you of what you value as a math educator.  If you need an idea of how I do this – check out my 31 thoughts – 1 per day of the month (and repeat) with silly pictures.  This is a calendar I set up to remind me what I want to do more of.  It is easy to print out and make mine if you need a place to start.  Check it  out HERE.


secretSometime in the next week I will post my #1 tip – really it has been amazing – for engaging every student in mathematical discourse.   It is a small tweak that everyone can do.  I do it everyday in my classes now and it has radically changed the amount of discourse in my classroom.  This fall I plan to do this small tweak every single day week 1.  When I blog about it (soon, its my next post) I will also post a link HERE.  More soon….

UPDATE 8.12.18 My #1 tip was to do STAND & TALKS!  Here is the blog post.  Coming soon in fall 2018 is a new website full of stand and talk resources.  Again, more soon!

Other amazing ideas from the #MTBoS community

I also steal from all kinds of people out there in the online math community.  Here are just a few posts for week 1 &/or day 1.

Ultimately, I think we all agree you should NOT read the syllabus day 1.  Do math and build relationships should be your 2 goals.

Something New!

In addition to links to my prior blog posts for week 1 of school, I thought I’d give you 1 new resource.  I pulled together 180 (one for each day of the school year) silly math puns/jokes/thoughts to print, laminate and post in the hallway just for fun.  I plan to switch out one sign a day.  If you want to do the same or just want to steal silly things for your classroom, download this word doc: 180 Math Pictures just for fun

Here is just a taste of what you’ll find….

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Sara VanDerWerf

I am Sara Van Der Werf, a 24-year mathematics teacher in Minneapolis Public Schools. I have taught math in grades 7-12 as well as spent several years leading mathematics at the district office. I currently teach Advanced Algebra at South High School and I'm also the current President of the Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics (MCTM). I am passionate about encouraging and connecting with mathematics teachers. I'd love to connect via twitter.  Join the community.  Tweet me @saravdwerf.

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