The first full week of school began today, and thanks to Amy Zimmer, @zimmerdiamonds, we are off to a fantastic start! Amy shared one of her favorite back to school activities, Break the Ice, at Twitter Math Camp, #TMC16, this last summer, and I fell in love with it! I brought it home and added my name to her Google Slideshow and I was ready to go (Mrs. Naegele’s Awesome Math Nerds) . I launched the activity by introducing students to our group creator cards that I placed on each desk and had students find their group according to the graphic in the one frame. Then we worked through the slide show that Amy created. The students loved having the opportunity to talk in their small groups about the games, movies and books that they like the most. In our follow up conversation about the strategies employed to reach a consensus, every class was able to identify several strategies including; strong arming, majority rules, listing, throwing out ideas until one resonates with the group, pickiest gets the choice, most strong willed gets the choice. We then thought about and discussed the pros and cons of each strategy if we were engaged in mathematical problem solving. I had recorded each group’s responses on the whiteboard, and I then challenged the class to come to a consensus for one book, one movie and one game that we would agree upon as the class favorite. I read the lists and asked who would like to promote and defend a particular choice. The speaker was taxed with convincing the class to vote in favor of whatever book, movie or game they were promoting. The students were eager, and passionately described why they loved what they were promoting. When the first few students had shared I drew attention to myself and let students know I would be modeling restating in my own words what the presenter was promoting. When a student was finding it difficult to enunciate their feelings I explicitly modeled adding on. It wasn’t long before several students were asking to restate or add on to each other’s justifications. When a student was defending a movie, book or game that I found particularly unappealing I modeled respectfully disagreeing and providing counter arguments. You guessed it, the students quickly picked up on this and they too started respectfully disagreeing and providing counter arguments! When the class had reached a consensus on each category we then talked about how we can take these techniques into problem solving in math. I followed this activity with Jo Boaler’s video, Mindset, found on https://YouCubed.org, and we discussed what we noticed and wondered about the video. Right away my students picked up on the fact that the brain can be changed, they called it plastic. They were impressed that the brain can grow with the right kind of activities. They noticed that people have to continue to engage in activities to maintain the expanded brain capacity. I closed by sharing with them why this excites me so much. I highlighted the fact that each one of my students has one kind of disability or another that has resulted in them being in special education classes for math. I reminded them of the research that proves when students are engaged in the right kind of activities that the brain can and does change and grow. I talked about how I have been using these activities and methods with students for a while now and I have seen first-hand how life changing these activities have been for my students. I told them success stories about former students and how excited I am that none of the students I had at my previous school who are now in 6th and 7th grade are in my class now. My previous students have changed their mindset, and they no longer need intervention in math. I challenged my new students to come to class every day ready to engage in activities in which they may struggle. I asked them to keep an open mind and be ready to strategize and problem solve with one another. I told them if they are willing to put themselves out there and take a risk that together we will change their thinking, change their mindsets, and they will become mathematicians. I hooked them and delivered the close. Almost every one of them cannot wait to explore the math problem that I promised to bring tomorrow! Thank you Amy for such an amazing opener! The ice is not only broken, but I can already see it is beginning to melt!