Saturday, August 5, 2017

Don't Say This On The First Day Of School

Mark Twain once said "Holding a cat by the tail teaches you things you can't learn any other way."  I don't advocate holding cats by the tail.  But you'd certainly learn a lesson if you tried.  I learn a lot of things the hard way.  One of those hard lessons was learning what NOT to say on the first day of school.

All good teachers spend time planning how to introduce themselves, their class, and their expectations.  And we always hope that we'll inspire in our students a feeling of anticipation for the great things they'll be doing in our class this year.  It took me years to figure out that spending the first day with my new students on things like disclosure letters, class rules and notebook requirements was the absolute worst way to get kids enthused about my class.

A few years ago I made a complete shift in the way I spent that first day.  Of course I complied with anything the school required me to send home on that first day.  But other than that, I spent no time on "administrivia".

Here's what I did instead.  I developed a sort of "archaeological dig".  I emptied my purse onto a table at home and pulled out items that an archaeologist could use to learn about me.  I took photographs of them. And then I took some photographs of other things around my house that also provided clues about who I am and what my interests are.  The photographs were of things like a movie ticket stub, a grocery receipt, a dog leash, the copyright page from my favorite book, etc.

On the first day, I gave each small group of students copies of the photographs. Then I gave them this scenario:  "It's several hundred years in the future.  An archaeologist has discovered an ancient home and artifacts from that home have been carefully photographed.  Your job is to use your powers of observation to examine the artifacts and make as many inferences as you can about the occupants of that ancient home."

I was hopeful of course that students would be able to infer a great deal about me from the photographs.  But I was astonished at what they actually did infer. From the movie stub alone my students were able to infer that I traveled to Europe (they figured that out from the way the date was written on the ticket stub and from the price in euros), that I was middle class (had the money to travel), that I probably had at least one teenage son (the movie was a genre than teenage boys would enjoy), and that my son(s) must have accompanied me on the trip. They were able to make similar inferences from every other item, including inferences I don't think I would have made myself.  By the end of class, they'd pretty well established the approximate year of my birth (which was nowhere in the photographs) and a great deal of information about my life. We made a class list of the inferences by having each group report out one inference at a time until no group had more additions to make to the list. We discussed how each inference was made and from which artifacts. Students who had made fewer inferences learned by hearing how more successful groups made inferences. Kids were really engaged and a few even thanked me for not giving them another hour long lecture about class rules! 

This introductory activity launched my unit introducing the nature of science. Over the next couple of days I went over all of the class expectations and distributions of disclosure letters that we all do, but I just did them in smaller chunks of time.

On the first day of school this year, don't say "Welcome to my class, I'd like to go over my rules and expectations with you." Instead, create your own archaeological dig!

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Check back Monday afternoon for a chance to win a $100 TpT gift card or a $25 gift card to my TpT store! 

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  1. I LOVE this!!!! This could also be such a fun way to introduce a new (to them) historical figure. It'd be interesting to also give a couple of prompts to get them to make the connection between how much they share on social media and how much private, peresonal details perfect strangers might find out about them.

    1. Great ideas! You've got me thinking about ways to introduce famous scientists using the same method!


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