3 Simple Math Ideas for the First Weeks of School 2-3

Looking for math ideas for the first weeks of school? These activities are perfect for kids in 2nd and 3rd grade. Read on for back to school math activities, free printables, and tips for implementing.

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! #math #education #2ndgrade #3rdgrade #backtoschool

Whether you go back in August, or your summer lasts through September, here are 3 math activities you can use on the first weeks of school in your 2nd or 3rd grade classroom.

Back to School Math Idea #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:


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 ain’t 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!

Back to School Math Idea #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 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 PRINT & GO so you have to do pretty much zero prep to have it ready.

You can grab this project at the I Want to be a Super Teacher TpT store HERE.

There is more detail about this project at the John McBildit Project blog post HERE.  There are also day by day instructions included.

Back to School Math Idea #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.

You can download a free math September Math Challenge at the TpT store HERE.

Need more back to school math activities?

You can find the entire set of 26 September Math Challenges at the Super Teacher site store HERE.

These are perfect to use as number talks, fast finishers, advanced small group work, or for math contracts during the first month of school, and they come in printable and Google Slides versions.

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,



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