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3 Simple Math Ideas for the First Weeks of School

Looking for math ideas for the first weeks of school? These activities are perfect for kids in 2nd and 3rd grade. Includes activity ideas, free printables, and tips for implementing. Click to learn more!
Hey Super Teacher!

Back to School time is upon us! Whether you go back this week (I'm talking to you Colorado friends) or not for a few (lucky Michiganders), here are 3 math activities you can use on the first weeks of school (recommended for 2nd-3rd grades). 
1. Pentominoes - These are my go to Day 1 math activity!  I would HIGHLY recommend purchasing a class set if you are able.

Show students the book Chasing Vermeer (this mystery book has a pentomino by name chart and hidden pentominoes on the cover) and then see if students can figure out how the pentominoes are named (spoiler alert: it's by letters of the alphabet).

Then let them try to make squares and rectangles using as many pieces as they can. (Amazon affiliate links above)
Pentominoes are a super fast finisher that all students can use (and love), so not only do you have a fun first day math activity, you are also introducing a fast finisher students will have available to them all year.  During these first weeks of school it's pretty much priceless to have a "go to" fast finisher ready on Day 1!

The ultimate goal with pentominoes is to use all 12 pieces to create a square or rectangle with no overlapping pieces or gaps.  However, on the first day tell students that although a 12-piecer is the ultimate/most amazing/crazy sauce goal, right now they just want to try and use as many pieces as they can to create a square or rectangle.

When they do they can shout out:

"3-piecer!" 
"4-piecer!" 
"5-piecer!"

which sounds crazy, but it's actually very cute.  If you're a recovering type-A like moi, you can also have them hold up fingers silently which still works and keeps it nice and calm.  

A note about organizing pentominoes: Although it would be lovely to have a different colored pentomino set for every student - it aint gonna happen.  The buckets usually come in primary/secondary colors only.  Before you give sets out to students, label EVERY PIECE within each set of pentominoes.  You can have one blank set of each color, but then you need to get creative and make a yellow smiley face set, purple star set, red heart set (you get the idea).  DO NOT just give out brand new pentominoes unless you want to organize 12 piece pentomino sets during your planning time for the next EVER.  Learn from my foolish mistakes and Promise ME you will not do this! If you want to be brave you can have students label, but to me a 2nd grader with a Sharpie marker = Death, so I wouldn't recommend.  

A note about purchasing pentominoes: Typically when you buy a bucket of pentominoes they come with 72 pieces (don't be fooled - 72 pieces only equals 6 complete sets per bucket), which means you need to buy 4-5 buckets for a whole class set.  Don't despair if you can't purchase a whole class set and don't you dare spend your whole paycheck on pentominoes.  Students can share! 


2. Staircase Design Project - This real world math project asks students to help an architect determine how many steps will be needed to build a staircase.  (Not to ruin the surprise, but it's 55).

This FREE math project is one of my B2S faves because it gets students thinking about their mathematical thinking immediately.  You can use it any time during the year, but during the first weeks is ideal because it:

*Serves as an assessment for you to see students' problem solving abilities and preferred strategies (model/picture/number sentence) right off the bat

*Is a great way to introduce the math tools you have in your classroom and how students should/should not use them (Say it 'til they get it: "TOOLS not toys, TOOLS not toys!")

*Combines reading and writing with a real world math scenario

*Takes 3 days so you basically have your week of math planned with this project alone

*Is FREE and PRINT & GO so you have to do pretty much zero prep to have it ready.  You can download this project for free from my store HERE.

There is more detail about this project at my blog post HERE.  There are also day by day instructions with the free download.



3. Introduce Math Challenges -  These are another great addition to your fast finisher area! On the first weeks of school it's important to show students what it looks like in your classroom to show mathematical work in an organized way and write about mathematical thinking.  This is the goal of math challenges which consist of more difficult multi-step problems. 

Make sure you complete one or two of these as a class BEFORE putting them in the fast finisher area.  It will save you lots of hassle later, plus you can use a few students' completed challenges as models for others to reference later when completing these independently.
Use this free school-themed math printable as a challenge for your 2nd and 3rd grade elementary students!  This September math challenge can be used as a whole class problem solving activity, advanced math center, fast finisher, or homework worksheet.  Click for the free printable!
You can get a free math September Math Challenge HERE or can purchase my newest set of September Math Challenges HERE. (They were just listed on August 14th!  Hooray!)
 Looking for print & go math activities for back to school?  These September Math Challenges are perfect for advanced 2nd and 3rd graders! Includes 26 challenge and brain teaser activities ready with NO PREP for centers, homework, problem of the week, or small group learning. Fun for kids and easy for teachers! Click for details.

Do you have any other MUST DO math activities for the first week of school?  Tell me all about them in the comments!

Have a fab day Super Teacher,

These free math challenge and brain teaser activities for elementary students can be used for centers, weekly challenges, small groups, or whole class problem solving. Fun for kids and easy for teachers! Perfect for 2nd and 3rd grade.
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