Sunday, September 9, 2012

First Days of School

It's your first day of school!  All of the work and preparation over the summer is now culminating into this, the first time of the year that you are teaching.  The question is, what to do?  While it is fun to plan for activities, lessons, and the curriculum the first day of school can be something of an enigma.  When I was preparing for my very first day of school I wasn't sure what I wanted to do.  Should I just go over the syllabus and then play some ice breakers?  Maybe I should just jump in with the material?  The first day of school can be different for everyone and still work in all of its permutations.  Despite that there are a multitude of permutations available for this time, there are a couple of things to consider.

The first thing I consider is what the students might be looking for.  This first day is something like a faq page for a website.  Students want to know what they will be learning, how hard the class is, what type of assignments they will be doing, what is acceptable behavior in the classroom, how is grading done, and much more.  Because of this, I would recommend that whether you decide to go over your syllabus or not, that you take some time during the first day to review some of these aspects of your classroom.  This way you lay the foundation for the rest of the year.

The second thing I consider is what I want the class to run and look like for the following year.  Because the students use the first class as a judgement of how the daily routine will be, it's important to review your common procedures such as how to enter the classroom, the end of class, how you hand out papers, how students look for help, how you quiet the class, and so on.  Even having a practice run or two can help.  Another aspect of this I find useful is to consider some of the main formations of activities that I am planning to use during the year and try and implement it during the first class.  This means if you have a lot of group work, try to have a small group work activity to expose the students to.  If you practice a lot with the jigsaw method, then use it for a short time period during your class.  For my first day I begin and end every class with a do now and a question to go so on my first day of class, I had a do now which was to locate their seats and a question to go which was to ask students why they were taking physics as their choice for science.

The last thing that I consider is what is the pool of knowledge that the students are coming to class with.  This student brought knowledge to the classroom can affect how they answer questions, approach problems, and more throughout the year.  To do this you can do several things such as an assessment, questionnaire, activity and more.  This past year in my physics classes I had a math assessment the first day for the first part of the period to see at what level of math they were as because of the math needed for physics problems in the classes I teach.  Having looked them over, I'm now more prepared to know which parts of the math might need more guidance and which parts students already know and just need guiding through.

After the first day where you learn so much from and about the students, it's time to jump into the daily routine of the classroom.  Between day one and the first unit from the curriculum, some teachers insert a review of previous years and units for students as a Unit 0 for students.  During my first year of teaching, that is exactly what I did.  However, this year I am trying something different.  This is because while a review is useful for students, it can also be stagnant and boring to them, even with fun activities because as the student views it, they already know the information.  Therefore, I have jumped right into my first unit without any review unit.  Instead, I am taking the approach of reviewing information as needed at the time that it is needed.  Therefore, on the second day of class when we did an average speed lab for physics class, after the lab during data analysis time, we took time in the class to review how we can calculate average speed as well as how to organize data, what graphs and tables are appropriate, and what uncertainty in measurements were.  The students were very receptive to the information and were more vested in the review as it applied to their current activity.  While this may not work for every class, this is something that should be considered for the first days of school, to have a review unit or not.

Finally, for the first days of school it is important to take the time to reinforce your syllabus and acclimate your students to your classroom.  This means practicing how to hand in assignments, go to the restroom, how to silence the room, and making sure to equally reinforce these items.  It can be hard during the first few days as everyone becoumes aquainted, learns the routines, and more but taking the time now means that later on in the year the students will be following the routine and less issues will spring up in the future.  While the first days of school are some of the most important, make sure to keep calm and have fun.