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Math Class - First Day Activity

Rectangle of pentominoes
Many 6th graders seem to have a pretty negative attitude about math, so I try to do something interesting to "grab" them during our first class. Last year, during the first math class, we spent part of the period working with pentominoes. Before working with the pentominoes, however, we played a name game so we could learn each others' names (I find it impossible to start anything else if I don't know some names, and fortunately, I learn them fairly quickly).

rectangle outline

For the activity, I divided the students into groups of 3 or 4. The directions for the activity were not complicated - the task was to make a rectangle, using all of the pentominoes. I gave students an outline of the rectangle, as pictured to the left, so they would know the correct size of the rectangle. The squares in the grid are each one inch. The rectangle is 5 squares (inches) wide and 13 inches long (13 inches includes the row that has the "Pentominoes" title.)

We spent about 15 minutes with the pentominoes; some groups were able to make the rectangle and some groups were not, but all groups (in all 4 classes) were persistent for the entire time. This is the type of activity that allows all students to persevere, regardless of their background knowledge in math. All students could manipulate the pentomino pieces and offer suggestions, and while some students are strong in certain areas of math, others are stronger spatially; this introduction activity allows them to have success.

As students left class, I heard positive comments - "That was fun," "I wish we had more time to figure it out," "Can we work on it again tomorrow?" To me, the activity was successful - students persevered, worked very well with one another, and left with a positive attitude.

Throughout the year last year, I did give students opportunity to collaborate to solve various types of problems, and they always worked well and seemed to enjoy those classes. My goal this year is to incorporate more (and better-constructed) activities of this type.

What first day activities have worked well with your math students?

** See the August 28th post for some pictures and comments about this year's pentomino activity.
***Update 7/26/14 - I created this pentomino freebie to use and wrote a little bit about it here.

Click to download from TPT - Free


  1. Do you have a printable of the page you used?

  2. I'm sorry, I don't. I did add the picture of what I give the students, and a brief description, if that helps. Thanks for asking:)


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