I am by no means an experienced teacher, but from my observation and educational experience I know that the first 6 minutes of class are crucial to having students that are engaged and prepared to grow in their understanding of the subject that you are trying to teach. If students think a subject is boring they are much less focused and less willing to participate in class and actively engage the concepts. Since mathematics many times means another problem set or boring warm up problem; I propose something different. Something that some teachers do and some don’t, but in my opinion makes a big difference for how much students engage in the classroom. Let’s begin our class hours with fireworks!!
Probably about now, you have stopped reading because this is too extreme, or sounds like it has no mathematical value, but think about it for a second! People are interested in fireworks because they are creative, bold, interesting, and amazing! Mathematics can be this way as well if we present it well, and give students something they can relate to in the classroom. I am not advocating for setting off fireworks in the classroom; we all know that a teacher could potentially(likely) be fired for such an act, but what I am getting at is the start of class is essential for setting the tone for your class period. In light of this, I want to propose some fun ways to begin a mathematics class.
One possibility: Show a brief interesting video and ask students what they notice and what they wonder. You will probably get some silly responses, but you can structure the time in such a way that students feel heard and see that you expect them to be actively engaged in your classroom. Since it is math class, I would probably try to model some mathematical questions to ask, and after a while you may just find students will begin to notice the math in life too and enjoy math more for it. For example, a brief video that includes fireworks may spark student thinking.
You may want to focus your videos to try to get students to think about the topics you are working through in class, but just getting students to ask mathematical questions in interesting situations is a great start to better student engagement!
Another possibility is to perform a math card trick in front of your class and challenge students to figure out what you did! There are quite a few card tricks that involve math, and many are not too difficult to learn. For a first trick here is a good one to try out to start!
A third possibility is to make a Fermi question or use one from the Fermi Website . Make sure students understand that you do not expect them to get the exact answer, but want to hear or see their thought process in going about the problems. Fermi problems can be a great way for students to develop their relational understanding of mathematics.
A fourth possibility was inspired by Dr. Francis Edward Su the Mathematical Association of America President who recently gave a presentation at Grand Valley. When he taught in high school he would always begin with a math fun fact. These are exciting problems or facts about the history of mathematics that get students to be interested in math! Math Fun Facts his web site for these is very popular and receives over a million hits a year. I recommend his fun fact on how many shuffles it takes to randomize a deck of cards!
Now we see that there are many ways to begin class with fireworks, and I look forward to trying some of these out in the future, and if you give them a shot I would love to hear how they turned out for you! I can only imagine how much better high school math class could have been for me with a few of these to get me more engaged and develop my relational understanding of mathematics! Maybe your students will enjoy math a ton more if they have more interesting problems to try, sounds like it is worth a shot!