The First Days of School: Setting the Climate for Year
I have written before about the beginning of the school year, Beginning the School Year: It’s About Connections Not Content.
I begin all classes focusing on having the students make connections between each other and with me. I want students to learn about one another in a personal way. I want to learn about my students so my instructional strategies can be more personalized and tailored to their needs and interests.
As we begin this new school year, I want to share my own ideas for what I believe represent best practices for doing so. I have the following goals for beginning the school year:
- To have the learners get to know one another and if they do know one another, to deepen that understanding.
- To have the learners get to know me as an educator.
- To set the climate that the classroom will experiential, engaging, fun, and student-centric.
- To begin the process of having learners learn to solve problems as a group and work cooperatively with one another.
- To begin creating a supportive climate – where learners support one another and I support their learning efforts.
- To give the message that social-emotional learning is important.
- To have the learners take ownership of their classroom.
What should also be obvious from this list is what is not on it – namely a focus on content-driven instruction during the first days of school.
These are the activities I used on the first day of school with my gifted class of 2nd to 6th grade students:
I believe in including classroom activities that build emotional intelligence and social emotional learning. I begin my mornings throughout the school year with emotional check-ins, a way for each learner to check in with how they are doing that day. I use props such as feeling cards to do so. On this first day, I used Stones Have Feelings, Too.
For more ideas on the types of check-ins I have used, see Morning Meetings, Check-Ins, and Social-Emotional Learning.
Thumball Ice Breaker
For the second activity, the learners were asked to form a circle to participate in a Thumball Ice Breaker.
A learner tosses it to another learner. The catcher then responds to the prompt closest to her or his left them. After doing so, the learner throws it to another learner. I typically do two to three rounds where each learner gets the ball during a round. Example prompts include:
- Three Wishes
- Happiest Memory
- Three Yummy Foods
- Three Gross Foods
- Favorite TV Show or Movie
- Best Book or Author
- Great Vacation Place
- Funniest Cartoon
As a former adventure educator, I have a fondness for team building and group problem solving activities, and regularly incorporate them into my classroom. A good list of these types of activities can be found on Teampedia.
During on first day together, I facilitated Warp Speed with the learners.
Toss the ball around the circle until everyone has caught it once and it is returned to the leader. For Warp Speed, you need to establish a pattern of tossing one object around the group. Once the pattern has been established, ask the group to see how quickly they can move the object through the pattern with each person touching it in the order that has been established. Time this, and give the group several opportunities to improve their time (http://www.lifeway.com/studentministry/2014/07/07/game-warp-speed/).
As each effort was timed with the 3 second penalties per drop, I had them practice mental math. I showed them their times as recorded via my iPhone, asked them to multiple the number of drops times 3 and then add this total to their time. On subsequent efforts, I asked them to subtract the difference. Later they compared their improvements.
LED Enhanced All About Me Posters
I like using the All About Me posters at the beginning of the school year as it lets me know a lot about the learners in a very short time. I also use them to decorate my classroom walls. Since I have been involved in maker education running a maker summer camp, I showed the kids how to use LED lights creating circuits with copper tape. They used these materials to created LED enhanced All About me Posters.
The All About Me Poster was actually the beginning of their autobiographical activity unit. The learners were provided with a Google Doc with the following:
- All About Me Posters with LED lights
- I Am Poem – http://oakdome.com/k5/lesson-plans/word/i-am-poem.php. Post to a Google Slide. Include a photo from http://www.photosforclass.com/
- Word Cloud with at least 12 self descriptors – http://www.abcya.com/word_clouds.htm.
- Magnetic Poetry – refrigerator magnet words to write a 5 line poem or a Haiku about yourself.
- Get Anagrams for Your Name – http://www.wordsmith.org/anagram/index.html (list 15 of them)
- Do an A-Z book – each letter needs a word and an picture to describe you.
- Write out 10 equations about you represented by number.
- Make a T-shirt tote – http://www.mommypotamus.com/no-sew-t-shirt-tote-bag-tutorial/ and bring three objects from home in your tote for a show and tell.
- Do I Am Poem on notepaper add to a decorated self portrait.
The learners began these activities at the end of our day by starting their magnetic poems, A-Z books, and Word Clouds.
There were three things that happened during this first day that especially made me so grateful and excited about being a teacher.
First, one of the girls has a twice exceptional label – gifted and autistic. I was told that she might take weeks to start talking in class. Also, given her attributes, peers relationships, at times, at strained or even nonexistent. She loved all of the hands on activities especially the LED lights. After a bit of quietness during the beginning of the morning, she talked throughout our time together. What was especially cool was that a few of her classmates from her regular classroom came to get her for a visit to the school nurse. When they came into my classroom and saw her LED enhanced poster, they got very excited. Another teacher noticed the kids going down the hall and heard the them talking about the project – asking this girl all about. The other teacher knows that girl from past years and told me it warmed her heart to see her excitedly share her learning . . . and the other kids listening to her. I smile ever time I picture it.
Second, one of the boys worked very hard at creating his magnetic poem – see above. He read it several times to different students as he created it. I loved the pride and joy I saw in his face when saw and heard his peers’ reactions. It was definitely priceless.
Finally, there was a boy in the class who is new to the school. I met his mom during the morning prior to coming to my gifted class (it meets a full day per week) and she told me that he was not at all happy at this new school, that he wanted to go back to his old school but that was happy about coming to the gifted program. His total excitement and engagement as well as his connections to the other students in the program throughout the day brings a tear to my eye. It really seemed as though he found his tribe; a place where he belongs.
I wholeheartedly believe that the only reason these events occurred was due to my focus on the learners and on establishing our community during on first day together.
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