Math Class – Day 1

August 11, 2010 at 8:21 am 2 comments

On the first day of class, especially in a developmental math class, our students are full of fear and anxiety. They feel that math is their worst subject and it’s beyond their reach. They know few, if any, of their classmates. This is not the time to start lecturing. This is the time to start building a community of learners!

I do not lecture on the first day of class. (As a rule, I teach classes that meet 4 times a week for 50 minutes at a time.) I start in a pretty traditional way – I take roll, read through the syllabus, and make sure that everyone understands how the class will go. Then I give my students a survey that allows me to collect information about them. Most of the questions are designed to help the students understand their strengths and weaknesses, and alert them to future potential problems such as working full-time while taking 18 units and taking care of 3 children. (If you would like a copy of my survey, just let me know.) I also ask my students to tell me something that is special or unique about them – it’s a great way to show your students that you are truly interested in them (and their success).

Once the surveys are complete I form groups of 4, giving each group a folder. I ask each group to share their stories with each other, including their response to the special/unique prompt. I then ask them to put their names on the front of the folder and to come up with a group name. It may sound a little juvenile, but it really encourages students to talk to each other. Some groups will sit there and stare at each other, but when I let them know that I will name their group and that they will most definitely not like the name I choose they start talking.

I use these folders to take roll during the semester, and find that it really helps me to learn my students’ names quickly. I also refer to their surveys as I take roll, so I get to know them.

The goal here is to get students to be comfortable with at least 3 other students in the class. As I figure it, connection to classmates leads to connection with the class as a whole, which hopefully leads to a connection with me and the material.

This semester I have one class that meets for 2 hours a day, twice a week. I will use the first hour of that first class session as mentioned above, and will devote the second hour to a collaborative review assignment.

What is your Day 1 like? Do you have something unique that you would like to share? I encourage you to leave a comment on this blog, or reach me through the contact page at my web site –


I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. Each Wednesday I post an article related to teaching math on my blog. If there’s a particular topic you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website –


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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Diane  |  August 12, 2010 at 8:22 am

    My first day is pretty much the same but I usually teach a short lesson so they can start a bit of homework. Now that I”m using MathXL, much of the first day is taken up explaining how that works too.

    You’re right though…a big part of my job is getting them to feel relaxed and comfortable. I don’t do surveys (although its a great idea) but I do try to get them to relax and not be fearful.

  • 2. Diane Bauman  |  September 9, 2010 at 10:08 am

    I would love to know about your developmental classes – do those meet 4 times a week? Do you lecture all 4 days?


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