Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Have a Mic Drop Worthy First Week of School

Think back to your BEST first day of school as a student. What did the teacher do that made it so memorable? Chances are you didn't spend the time going over classroom rules and procedures, reading through the class syllabus or even learning each others' names. 

As educators we KNOW that these things are vital to the success of the classroom. But we also KNOW that it's one of the most boring things we have to do. Students certainly don't show up for school during the first week to sit through you yammering on about when it's a good time to sharpen a pencil or when the first big project is due. Students show up for the face-to-face social interaction with their peers.

So how do we leverage why students show up to school with what we need to get done? Funny you should ask...I have a few ideas on the topic.

But first a short story:

My student-teaching experience began on the first day of school in a junior high science classroom. As our students walked into the room, they saw all sorts of lab stations already set up on their tables. As my master teacher greeted them, she kindly requested that they refrain from touching the materials until they were given specific directions. Taking advantage of the first day when students are usually on their best behavior wanting to impress each other and the teacher, she took her time taking attendance. We could all observe who was willing to follow directions and who would need to have more direct "personal assistance" in being compliant. When she was ready, the teacher gave a few vague verbal directions (because slightly more explicit instructions were already on the table) about the tasks that were at each station and then asked them to begin working together. As students worked, the two of us went from table to table asking questions about the task and of the students themselves. The entire day went like this and it continued on into the second day as well. It wasn't until Day 3 that we explicitly went over any kind of rules, procedures, or syllabus.  

Here are the merits that I see in beginning the school year like this:
  • You aren't the one doing all of the talking - the students are. If your expectation for the rest of the year is for students to share ideas with each other, then you need to stop talking and give them the opportunity to speak. 
  • Students are working together to accomplish a task. If your expectation is that students collaborate throughout the year, you need to get their heads turned away from you and toward each other. 
  • In these stations, students had to solve problems and create something. If your expectation is for students to be problem solvers and creators, stop giving them worksheets (or even digital forms) to fill out.
  • If your goal is to get to know the students before the end of the week, how about having an actual conversation with them. Going around the room learning students names doesn't clue you in to how they think. But in finding out how they think, you just might also learn their names. 
  • As students are up and moving about, you very quickly learn which classroom boundaries need to be addressed.
When I put a similar activity into my first week lesson plans I found that after the activity was over, rather than going over specific rules one by one, the class could debrief, together, because now WE had a context to discuss the procedures, routines, and expectations. 

And as an added bonus we had discussions how to behave, how to treat others, how to be a self-advocate, how to challenge yourself, how to do quality work, and how to reflect and set goals. 

I won't pretend that every year, for every class, the discussions were like a Socratic seminar. Let's be real - it was the first week of school. But the tone had been set for the remaining 35 weeks of school. And that was mic-drop worthy for me! 

Are you wondering what options you might have to break the ice with your new class of students?
  • Task students with creating a scavenger hunt that will get their classmates examining various items, resources (please not a textbook - boring), spaces in the classroom or school campus.
    • Or if you want to create the hunt, use QR codes or even the Aurasma app to keep it engaging!
  • Get students in groups and have them construct a structure that will do something. Who says that this type of activity is limited to science? Imagine the chatter that would be created if you did something like this in English! Visit my Pinterest page to start collecting ideas!
  • Do you have money left over from your summer paycheck? Go and invest in materials to conduct a BreakoutEDU. Back to School Breakouts were just posted within the last 24 hours of this blog post. (Breakouts are a twist on those Escape the Room experiences.) Now that you have the materials for a Breakout, you can do them throughout the year! 
Here's to not only mic drop worthy first week of school, but a whole year's worth! 

Offering my BEST to you!

What other ideas do you have to add to this list of first day of school activities? 

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  1. Thanks for validating my decision to limit the typical rules and procedures intro and jump into an opening day of face-offs over controversial topics. The breakout.edu is amazing and I have already shared it with two of my teacher friends. Thanks for an inspiring "opening day" blog post!

  2. Thanks for sharing these great tips! Love how you validate student voice and encourage students to take ownership over their own learning and the learning space.