What are suggestions on how to start off the first few weeks? How do you guys handle the inevitable shock of getting classrooms of kids who don't understand the basics (teachers of math know why this poses a particular problem when trying to teach more abstract concepts)? How the heck do you decorate a classroom for junior high math?

I would start with some diagnostic assessments to determine what they do know--don't assume that they don't understand the basics. Use end-of-unit or end-of-year assessments from the previous grade. For decorating you could use something like these: http://www.mathteacherstore.com/middle/midlpost/5-8/mathpostA.htm along with charts to make with the students to illustrate concepts you are working on.

I normally teach high school, but 3 years ago I taught all 7th grade math (in our grade 6-12 school) Unlike lots of people here, I'm a big believer in hitting the ground running-- I like the tone it sets. So on that first day (a 5 minute meet and greet) they get a list of what supplies they need (notebook, and something to write with-- I'm pretty minimalist ). The next class, I start to teach, and they get homework. I check the homework on day 2 and everyday thereafter, and day 3 they have their first quiz. WE get to know each other gradually, but in the meantime they know that they can expect to do lots of work in my class, and I think that saves me lots of work in the discipline department. As we hit each new concept, I pretty much assumed they knew nothing. I approached it with a the attitude of "OK, I KNOW you guys already know what a common denominator is, but let's review it anyway, OK?" I like having a "Do Now" while I take attendance and check homework. That first trimester, it was times tables every single day. 4 and 6 one day, 3 and 8 another, and so on. In all the years I've taught high school, that is the single most important skill that lots of kids seem to be lacking. I had a LOT of those same 7th graders this year as freshmen, and the kids who had had me previously had a much easier time factoring, simply because they had those skills. Second trimester, the Do Now was almost always a list of the perfect squares and perfect cubes, again with factoring in mind. We did a lot of practical math applications that year. We had math pen pals in England, and I assigned a currency exchange project to my kids. (They still talk about those pen pals!) We used a Saturn price sheet to figure out the total and monthly cost of buying a car, we talked about mortgages and did the monthly mortgage payment of a house from the local newspaper (OK, I cheated. They don't know about "e" yet, so we did simple interest. I told them we were cheating, and that they would learn the real formula in 11th grade.) I gave them the measurements of their bedroom and some pages from the IKEA catalog (sizes are included) along with a budget, and had them buy furniture and draw a scale drawing of their bedroom. Middle school math has so many real world applications-- it was fun using them. As to decorations, I did pretty much what I do in high school-- lots of insiprational stuff-- anything from Garfield and Ziggy to quotes from Walt Disney and Robert Frost. For Christmas I ordered free Get-Out-of-Homework passes from vistaprint ( I just used their free business cards). They were a HUGE hit-- I got lots of requests for them again this Christmas (and, yes, Santa came through. He always does!) For my homeroom, I pass around a birthday list the first day. Then each month I post a birthday card to anyone celebrating (with an additional "summer babies" one in June)

wow you have a lot of great ideas! I am a new teacher and I have one 7th grade math class, definately going to use some of your ideas!

Our School teaches disicpline the 1st 3 days of school, then I did a social contract in all of my classes, I have seen a huge difference in my classes this year already, they are working harder and taking care of business this year. I have had very few not do their work, (the social contract puts everything from behavior to attitude on their shoulders) I give them choices! (example you have a choice to either do the work or sign the book, what is your choice? most of the time it is do the work, then i tell them GO CHOICE! with a smile.) I am so relax this year it is not even funny!!!

I am teaching 8th grade this year. This is my first year at this district, but I was told a couple years ago, for some reason these kids did not have math in their schedule. I was suppose to teach them algebra this year, but I gave them a pre-assessment test and me and the 7th grade math teacher have decided I should reuse the Pre-Algebra book to start the year off with. I highly suggest creating a pre-assessment test, so you're not teaching higher than their level or below their level. As for decorating the classroom, I have a bunch of motivational posters and many math posters around the room and on m bulletin boards.

Sometimes I would make a bulletin board with posters they created as we started a new topic. The posters would be called something like All About Exponents or What We Know About Quadrilaterals, or whatever. The kids would make 16 x 20 inch posters, in small groups, which portrayed what they knew - in bright colors. You could do an anticipatory lesson first if you want to. I wouldn't waste any class time on multiplication or basic division. Make clear to students who need help that they are responsible for mastering those skills immediately. Offer whatever help you can offer, but give it outside of class. Let their parents know, too, that there is no way to pass pre-algebra or algebra without those skills. There is a reason why they learn multiplication in 3rd grade! There are loads of math posters available. Sometimes you'll get one inside the NCTM publication, too. That really, really long pi poster is fun to have. Every classroom should have a number line for integers. You could have a brain teaser of the week and display it on the wall with a box underneath for them to submit responses.

My "Problem of the Week" is displayed on my board inside a plastic sheet protector. The top left corner is stapled to the board, and I have it angled down so the sheet doesn't flip. The answer is on the back-- easy to get to, but you have to physicallly flip the paper to see it.

Going along with the bulletin boards, I also have one interactive one that has a problem that may or may not relate to the topic we're covering in class. When the students have extra time they can work on them and turn them in for extra credit. The two I have up now are called "The M & M's of Math" (mean, median and mode) and Magic Squares. A lot of my 8th graders are still having trouble with their multiplication and division facts. To practice those during class without wasting much time, I have math fact quizzes. I read about 16 facts aloud to the students, they write down the answers and then say the answers. It only takes about 5 minutes of class time and everytime students get a perfect 3 times in a row they get a piece of candy.