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Today was the much anticipated first day of the new school year. Students streamed through the building in their finest new outfits. Teachers greeted students with broad smiles hiding the butterflies and willing with all their might that this school year will be the best yet!

Every year, I try to improve my student’s first day experience. While I used to hand out syllabus, a list of expectations, and a lecture about plagiarism, I have since evolved to reading sections of text, asking students to write about their first-day, and playing a game of two truths and a lie.

This year, I continued to build my constructivist approach by taking the pieces that have received good feedback from previous years and trying both high and low tech updates. See the ideas below and let me know if you’ve tried similar tactics.

Spotify school playlist.

Last year I caved and finally downloaded Spotify (it wasn’t filtered on my school’s network like my beloved Pandora). Since I was playing around, I decided to make a “All School Related” playlist. Granted, it’s an eclectic mix from Taylor Swift to Outkast to Ben Folds Five, but every song has to do with school in some way. When I tried this last year, I was surprised at how many students wrote that this small piece of the atmosphere  set an inviting tone for my room, and helped them think positively about the year ahead. Even if they couldn’t help by disparage my “weird” music choices, I knew this tradition was a keeper.

Using QR codes

This was a new addition. Traditionally, I gave a “student profile” to each student on the first day. In addition to keeping track of their book numbers, and various technology account information,  I would survey the students by asking them questions about their Internet accessibility, their after school commitments, their preferred learning environment. I would also ask a goofy question to get a sense of their personality: “If you could pick one animal to ride to school, what would it be and why?”

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Each desk had this sheet on it to facilitate students using the technology to take my start-of-school survey.

This year was our second year with a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device/Technology) policy at the high school. Rather than keep them writing on the paper cards, I decided to instead convert my survey to a Google Form and print out the QR code for them to scan and access the survey instantly. I also put the links for the Edmodo and Google Docs home page as a QR codes.

This worked well for the students who could quickly come in, download a QR reader from the app store, and efficiently access these websites without logging into my classroom laptops. Those who struggled with the multi-step process could also access the survey by using my class Chromebooks to log into Edmodo and click on the link there.

I plan on using QR codes in a similar way on my back-to-school parent night coming up next week.

Making my Room Set-up Pay Off

As I deconstructed and reconstructed my room for the first time in a few years, I reflected on how much time I invest into my physical environment. Then I wondered, “Do the students even notice? Does it make a difference in how they feel about me as a teacher or does it really influence their ability to focus and learn?”  So I decided to ask them.

Instead of me launching directly into my “Get to know a teacher” Prezi presentation, I decided to ask my students to first look around my room and make three inferences about me from how I organized our physical environment. I thought this would provide me with some interesting feedback on what they actually noticed, what message it sent them, and how they connected it with the overall learning experience. I was not disappointed! They had a good eye for details and were able to overwhelmingly conclude that

Mrs. C is organized, creative, and has an obsession with word choice.

True! But some surprising conclusions: (1) because I displayed an American flag, I am apparently very patriotic; (2) because I have three plants in my room, I am a gardener (true, but surprising from the limited evidence!); and (3) because I have two of the Twilight books in my reading corner I must love the series (in fact, I have two because I couldn’t read past that to finish the series!)

I love the feedback this activity gave me. The added bonus is that I now know what my room says to my students as its first impression.

Two Truths and a Lie

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Example from this year’s introduction and game. See if you can guess the answer in the comments! :)

I’ve played this game for about three years after stealing the idea from one of my best friends (also a HS English teacher). Each year I find pictures and conjure up obscure facts to reveal that despite my students’ perceptions, I do have a life outside of my classroom and curriculum. Then I create 3-4 slides where I provide two truths and one lie. Each person votes on which one they think is the lie and when I reveal it, I provide some evidence or explanation that helps the students to get to know me a bit. Then, of course, I have them create their own and share out with a few classmates to see if they can fool them. Overall, it’s a fun icebreaker with very little of that awkward we-are-playing-a-pointless-get-to-know-you-game feel.

From Here

From the first day through the end of our shortened week, I will review important policies, set the tone, and build relationship with my students. Very little of the content curriculum will be tackled in these early days, but I have come to believe that this time for building both respect and rapport is invaluable for a great year to unfold.

If you are interested in more first-day ideas, I’ve been having a great conversation with teachers all over the country in the Classroom Practice lab of the CTQ Collaboratory. Their creative thinking sparked my own. I would love to hear your ideas in the comments or over in the Collaboratory space!

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