I remember the first day of school as being overwhelming and tedious, moving from class to class getting talked at and overloaded with information that by the end of the day all blended together. I want my class to be different from that experience. My goal is to leave my students with a memorable experience that gives them some insight into who I am as a teacher and what they can expect from my class.
I am terrible at remembering names. It takes me longer than I would like before I am able to remember all 155 of my students’ names. I have found that passing back papers is the best way for me to learn everyone’s name. Having students create name plates that I can collect and pass back daily for the first few weeks helps me learn names more quickly. As students enter the room on the first day, I have several copies of the seating chart sitting on the front table and I have them find their seats. At each seat is a piece of cardstock and black markers that students use to make a name plate.
At your seat you will find paper and markers. Fold the bottom of the paper to the center and crease firmly. Repeat with the top, fold it to the center and crease firmly. You should now have a sort of long triangle that can stand on its own with one side facing me and one facing you.
Now on one side, write your first name and last initial large enough to be seen across the room (model for the students). On the back of the name plate, the side facing you, answer the following question: If you were a color, what color would you be and why?
I like this question for a lot of reasons but mostly because it forces students to think creatively while providing me with some insight into their personalities. I model for students by explaining that I would be swirling yellow over a black background with pops of glitter. This describes me because I am usually happy and excited but I can get moody and I like unexpected surprises. Here is a student example name plate answering the same question.
I allow any student who wants to share with the class to do so but I do not make everyone share as this is more for me than for them since by 8th grade most students are familiar with their classmates.
One of the goals of 8th grade is to get the students ready for the type of independent thinking that will be required throughout high school. During this transitional year, 8th grade teachers begin to move students away from structured labs and activities to a more student led experience. Some students take to this readily while some students fight the process, not wanting this level of independence and responsibility.
The opening day activity allows students a glimpse of this and allows me to informally assess their readiness for this type of learning. Each lab table gets a tray that holds one of three sets of Supplies; a small concave and convex mirror, polarizing filters, or colored filter paddles.
The materials on your tray are your lab supplies for this activity. Your task is to learn something new and report back to the class. There are lots of ways to do this correctly, but I am looking for you to work as a team and to keep track of what you are doing and what you are learning from doing that. If you find you need additional supplies, such as rulers, protractors or colored paper, just raise your hand. I will be checking in with each table as you work. If you have questions, just raise your hand and be patient.
Students will take some time getting started; they will be worried about getting the right answer. Just keep encouraging students and reminding them that as long as they are working together to learn something they did not know before they are doing it right. “What do you think?”, is the question I keep repeating as I move from group to group making sure that all students are participating and recording what they are doing and what they are learning.
This activity targets SP1, ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, models, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information, and SP3, conduct an investigation and/or evaluate and/or revise the experimental design to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence that meet the goals of the investigation, both of which will be targeted strongly throughout the year.
After 20-25 minutes, have each group share what they did and what they learned. If there is time I have them share any challenges they had with this process and what they did to overcome those challenges as well. The following video shows some students presenting what they learned. As you will see, the students are not asked to explain the cause of what they learned/noticed as this activity is more to get them introduced to the type of open ended investigation they will experience in 8th grade and provide me with some insight as to how students work in groups during this type of activity.
During the last five minutes, I ask students to write any questions or comments they have on the inside of their name plate and instruct students that they all must write something. This could be about the activity we just completed or about the year or me in general. Answering these questions allows me to interact with each student on a personal level right from the get go and begin to develop relationships with the students.
As students are working, I pass out the graphic organizer “Who Am I?” that I found on Pinterest. Students complete this as homework. When I collect them, I put them in a binder where I keep notes about each student throughout the year, recording parent contact and classroom struggles in particular. This fact sheet comes in especially handy as I begin to make personal connections with each student and when preparing for parent-teacher conferences.