Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Our First Day(s) of School

Several people have asked me what I do with my students for the first few days of school. So, I thought I would take some time and share what we did to get this year off to a great start.

  • We read The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds. This book always sets a great tone for the beginning of the school year. It has great life lessons about never giving up, always trying your best, overcoming misconceptions, and inspiring the uniqueness in others. After we read the book and had some amazing discussion, the students always ask if they can design their own unique dots to display. I love the creativity in each of these and how something so simple can have such a strong meaning for each learner.
  • On the first day, I always take time to introduce myself. They notice that I have several photos in my classroom and I tell them that we need to put pieces of them in our classroom too. You'd be amazed at how excited they are about being included in our learning environment in such a  simple way. Each student creates his/her own self-portraits which we display on the wall that you see when you first enter the classroom. The stay up the entire school year reminding them that this is their classroom.
  • So often I hear from parents something along the lines of..."He just hates math. I always hated math so we struggle through it each year." As a child who hated reading, I understand the dread and apprehension, but I don't want them to write off an entire subject because of previous experiences. To get a true feeling for where each student is in math and their perceptions of it, good or bad, I have my students write a Mathography...the story of their life with math. They write about how they feel about it, their experiences and how they see math in their lives. It is always an eye-opening experience for all of use. Usually, through their own reflections, they draw the conclusion of how important math is in our daily lives. It opens up the channel for some great class discussions.
  • Spaghetti and Marshmallows...that's right. Since our class is so student-directed and they need to learn the crucial skills of communication, collaboration, problem-solving, and critical thinking, I give each team of four students 20 pieces of raw spaghetti, 1 yard of tape, 1 yard of string, and 1 marshmallow. Their goal is to build the highest tower that can hold the jumbo marshmallow at the top. Some teams need encouragement as they start to struggle and many want to give up, but by asking guiding questions, they get inspiration and set off on another idea. (Check out the photo album of this year's challenge.)

  • Since we use many web tools, digital resources, and social media, it is imperative that my students develop good online habits. We use a resource called NetCetera to spark much conversation about cybersafety, netiquette, and cyberbullying. (I discuss this in further detail in my book.) On the first day, my students are introduced to Twitter and our class Twitter feed, @RamsaysClass. We talk about all of these good habits within the context of tweeting and the students set the guidelines. At the end of each day, each group writes one tweet on a sentence strip that we hang up in the hallway. This is a way that I can guide them into creating meaningful, powerful tweets for our class. Within three days, my students were ready to start conversing with the Twitterverse and all of the other students with whom we are connected.
  • Beginning to tweet led into our lessons on beginning to blog. Karen McMillan has created series of lessons that teach students how to blog by starting them off on paper. Before we begin blogging (on paper first then digitally), I lead a discussion with my students about what expectations they have for their blogs. These lessons are a huge hit with my students. It gives them experience in writing high quality posts and comments before actually setting off to write their digital blogs on KidBlog. (Check out the post that I wrote about their first blogging experience.)

  • Another activity in which my students engage is that they "build their wildselves." We want all of students to be safe when using digital tools, but we also want them to have some identity. BuiLD YouR WiLD SeLF is a site hosted by the New York Zoos and Aquarium. Students (and their teachers...because we all want one of these) visit the site and they create avatars that begin with kids and then you can add different animals parts like peacock feathers and octopus tentacles to the character. This is a great way for students to create an identity that's safe. My students use their wildselves in all of the different tools where an avatar can be used.
So that answers the question that so many people have been asking. To be honest, I don't think it's so  much about what you do as it's how you do the activities and lessons that you plan. For me, it's important that they start learning how to think, dig deeper, stretch their wings, be kind to one another, communicate well with others, and take responsibility for their own learning. The biggest shift for them is that they are put in charge of their learning...which is totally foreign to them when they enter my class. I hope that all of you have had as wonderful of a beginning of the school year as we have. I look forward to all of us learning together this school year...and beyond.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for these wonderful ideas. We have a new principal who is challenging us to do something 'wow' to hook the kids in on their first day of our school year.