First Day of Math Class Activities

Getting students interested in math class should begin the first day they enter the classroom.
••• old math game image by peter Hires Images from

Teachers often face a lack of enthusiasm in students on the first day of math class, due in large part to the fact that many students don’t understand why they need to study math and how important it will be in their lives as they grow into adults. Developing an appreciation for the practical applications of math can make all the difference in whether students succeed or excel in their study of mathematics. First day of school math activities offer a great opportunity to introduce and enforce students’ appreciation for math.

Encourage Team Problem Solving

Having students work together on the solution for a problem helps them get to know each other on the first day of class. It also encourages teamwork. Those who make a career in a STEM field will most likely spend their professional lives working on teams, so this is a good time to explain to students that mathematics is not always a solitary activity.

The Cup Stack game, suggested by Georgia Public Broadcasting, is a great teamwork game for third grade and above. Divide students into teams of six. Provide each team with a rubberband that has six pieces of string, each piece 1 to 2 feet long, tied evenly around it. Each team is also given six paper cups that they must work together to arrange into a pyramid, using only the rubberband and strings. Each teammate controls one of the strings and helps pull open the rubberband, place it over a cup and lift the cup into place. Use more cups for a greater challenge!

Make First Day of Class Activities Visual

First day of class activities that are visual in nature will engage students and can help them learn. Research shows that the most powerful learning occurs when different areas of the brain are used, such as learning about numbers through visual representations. First day of school games that use counters or geometric shapes are a good way to introduce concepts that will be introduced later in the year.

The How Close to 100 game was developed by the Stanford University School of Education for use by grades 3 through 8. Since the group is played in pairs, it also encourages teamwork. Two students are given a pair of numbered dice and a paper with a blank 10 × 10 grid. The first student rolls the dice and then fills in an array of squares on the grid that represents the numbers on the dice, interpreted as row and column. For example, if the dice show a 1 and a 3, an array of 3 squares in either the horizontal or vertical direction can be filled. If a 2 and 3 are shown, the filled-in array can be 2 by 3 or 3 by 2 squares in either direction. The players continue, taking turns rolling and filling in arrays of squares anywhere on the grid. The game ends when no more arrays can be added. Teams can compete by answering the question, “How close to 100 did you get?”

Combine Math and Creativity

Visual patterns are found throughout nature and art. Many have a mathematical basis, so first day class activities that combine math and art can help spark students’ interest. Tessellations are patterns created by repeating a shape on a plane. The ancient Greeks and Romans created mosaics with tessellation patterns. This type of pattern is also a basis for many of the creations of the artist M.C. Escher. Students can explore their creativity with a tessellation project, as suggested by the Exploratorium. A template is created from an index card by cutting a curve along one edge and taping the cut-off piece to the opposite edge. On a piece of paper, students figure out how to cover the surface by tracing around the template, moving the template and tracing again. The finished design can then be colored based on the patterns that emerge.

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