It seemed fitting to me that the first post on MathEd.net should be like the first day of school. So please sit in your seats quietly and patiently as I go on for the entire class period telling you what you aren't allowed to do here.
But isn't that a traditional expectation for the first day? I tried it that way (several times, I'll admit) and it had to rank as some of the worst teaching I've ever subjected my students to. I read somewhere once that if you spend the entire first day of school addressing the rules, then you'd better be prepared to deal with them the rest of the year. I agree. Instead, I made sure students were involved in a group problem-solving activity the moment they walked in the door. Rules weren't discussed, but the expectations for my students were clear.
The only rules I had posted in my classroom were my "Math Rules." You'll have to pardon some of the sarcasm, but I've had success using this kind of humor with students. (Besides, it's just who I am.)
- Don't disrespect zero and one. They're your friends. You wouldn't "cancel" a friend, would you?
- Exact answers are usually better than approximate ones. Why would you want to do more work to change an exact fraction into an approximate decimal? Yeah, thought so. If you must "decimalize," two decimal places is usually enough.
- Of course you have to show your work. Duh! I can't believe you'd even ask such a silly question. The same goes for reducing fractions.
- Generally, if a complete sentence was used to ask for an answer, respond with a complete sentence. It’s good for you, like vegetables.
- Don't "plus" things together. Don't "times" things together. Know when to say "add" and "multiply" so you won't sound like a dork.
This list helped accomplish three objectives. First, build rapport with students through humor. Second, establish that how we communicate about math is important. Third, help students become better mathematicians by setting expectations for their work. I think the rules worked well, especially with #5 - students started to look for opportunities to call each other "dorks" and incorrect use of phrases like "I timesed the numbers together" decreased substantially.