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First Day of Math Class Activity – Free Pentomino Exploration


Simple but Challenging Activity for the First Day of Math Class

Great first day of math class activity!

First Day of Math Class​
The first day of math class is an exciting time! Getting to know the new students, giving them an opportunity to get to know each other…a new beginning together:-)

For several years now, I have used this pentomino activity on the first day of math class. I’ve written a few posts about it (on my old blog), because each year I find more benefits to using the activity.

It’s a seemingly simple activity, and when I first explain it, students think it’ll be a piece of cake. BUT, they find it to be quite challenging. And I find it to be an excellent way for students to start working cooperatively on the very first day of the school year!

How This Math Activity Works

Students work in small groups of 3 or 4 to create a rectangle using all 12 of the pentominoes. That’s it – make a rectangle, with no gaps or overlaps. Students are given a frame to work within (as shown in the photo). As I said, it sounds pretty simple, but if you’ve attempted it yourself, you know that it’s not as easy as it sounds.

It takes the groups quite a while (and some never finish if I don’t give some hints), which is great, because they are really thinking, talking to each other, sharing ideas, speaking their thought processes, working together, and being persistent.

In the years that I’ve been doing this, I have yet to find a student who wasn’t engaged. This is the type of activity that allows all students to persevere, regardless of their background knowledge in math. All students can 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 all to have success.

What Teachers Learn/Observe During This First Day of Math

Class Activity

pentomino activity for first day of math class

While this activity is a great first day of math class experience for the students, it’s also great for me!
It gives me the opportunity to observe my new students and start learning about them immediately on the first day of class. I learn things like:

  • How they approach tasks
  • ​How they interact with others
  • Who will try to take charge
  • Who will sit back and watch/listen

It’s a fantastic learning time for me!

Pentomino Math Activity Materials

pentomino activity for first day of math classPicture

​In my classroom, I only had 12 by 5 inch frames for the pentomino activity, which I inherited from someone along the way. I decided, though, that I wanted to make frames with different dimensions (10 by 6 and 15 by 4), so I made those on the computer (on 8.5 x 11 pages).

So the pentominoes would fit into these frames, I had to make the pentominoes smaller. So, now I have 3 different sizes of pentominoes (once I cut them out and laminate them!)

Having the different sizes and different frames allows me to give groups slightly different tasks, if I choose, or will give the groups who finish a new configuration to figure out.

If you’d like to try using these pentominoes, click the link below the Pentomino Exploration image.

Pentomino exploration activity
What are some of your go-to first day of math class activities?
For more ‘first day’ or ‘first week’ ideas, check out this post about classroom routines.


Welcome to Cognitive Cardio Math! I’m Ellie, a wife, mom, grandma, and dog ‘mom,’ and I’ve spent just about my whole life in school! With nearly 30 years in education, I’ve taught:

  • All subject areas in 4th and 5th grades
  • Math, ELA, and science in 6th grade (middle school)

I’ve been creating resources for teachers since 2012 and have worked in the elearning industry for about five years as well!

If you’re looking for ideas and resources to help you teach math (and a little ELA), I can help you out!



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