First Days 2014-2015

Thursday was our first day of school. We do this weird thing where students are split up into grades and rotate around the school to hear teachers talk about expectations- dress code, behaviors, etc and pass out schedules and handbooks and such. So we do this 1st-3rd hour and then students go to their regular classes for 4th-7th hour. It's a 2:15 day so we skip 8th hour.

Since I only had half of my classes, I couldn't do all the fun things I wanted to do with everyone so I picked two alternative activities.

When students came into the room, each group of desks had a clipboard with the names of the four people who should sit there. I had a slide up on the screen that asked them to find their name and then find a seat.

At each seat was an index card. Welcome to the Cup Challenge.

#1 asked that student to get supplies: a stack of cups, a rubber band tool, and an envelope (it's to the right in the picture).

#2 person had to open the envelope and read the directions.

#3 person had to start the activity by setting up the cups in the "starting" position.

Then comes the fun. Students have to pull the strings tied to the rubber band so that it will stretch big enough to go over the cup. Then they have to maneuver carefully so that they don't knock the cups over. When they have to flip the cups, they have to trade strings or figure out some way to do it.

Once they achieved the pyramid, they had to return the cups to the starting position, also with the tool. Then I gave them four more cups. Two were the same size and two were smaller. Now they had to make a pyramid with 4 on the bottom, 3, 2, 1. 

The truth is that I just used the cups I had. But the smaller cups added an extra challenge. The only way to make it work is if the 2 small cups are the two cups before the last one is placed on top. A lot of students didn't realize this until they got to the top and then had to adjust.

After that, I had them unstack the whole pyramid and flip it over. 

I enforced the no hands policy, even if they knocked the cup in the floor. The whole team had to use the tool on the floor to pick up. They started to get creative and use their forearms and and feet but had to use the tool to place the cups in the pyramids.

#4 student had to put all the supplies back neatly.

The best part was the discussion. I asked them what was the point of the activity and what it had to do with math. Most of the responses were team work, strategy, keep trying, not giving up, etc.

This took about 25 minutes.

Next I asked them to pair up. I thought it was interesting that most students didn't move and chose to work with the people in their original group. I think that the first activity was it's own kind of icebreaker because no one was perfect at it, they laughed, they got frustrated, they kept at it. That vibe fed into the next activity and took away the awkwardness of working with people you may not have chosen for yourself.

This activity is called Chain Gang and is more suited for elementary I guess but I enjoyed it. The students had one piece of construction paper scissors, and tape to make the longest paper chain possible. They got pretty competitive and were whispering and hiding their chains so others couldn't see the length. It worked out every class period that they had only about 10 minutes to work. They had to split up the work to get done in enough time. Then we laid them out to find the longest....

Even I as amazed at how different the lengths were when they all started with one sheet of paper. Again we discussed the point of the activity and what was the best strategy to make the longest length.

The one word that no one mentioned was communication. Why does that seem to always be lacking?

Anyway, these two activities took up the 47 minute class period easily and all students were engaged. I was walking around almost bursting inside....why can't my math class look like this every day? I've GOT to do more activities so math doesn't seem so boring.

These activities also set up some class norms without putting them into writing...in this class we work all class period, we talk, we work together, we think we try different methods, we compare our results, we discuss, we persevere, we clean up after ourselves, and we can still have a good time.

And sometimes we make pretties.


  1. Do the kids start with 6 cups? What does the starting position look like? Is it the pyramid but with cups opening up? Would it work with only a group of 3 kids if I had that? I want to try it, thanks!

    1. Yes, they start with 6 cups.

      Can you see the file under #2? It shows the starting position. It's 3 cups upside down and 1 cup on top right side up in the middle of the 3.

      Yes, I had some groups that only had 3 students and it worked fine.