This short activity sets the stage that the classroom is a place where the students' whole well-being is valued in addition to their biology studies. I make an effort each day to build a positive, supportive classroom environment for my students.
This is an opportunity for students to think about something that sets them apart from their peers. I suggest identifying a special talent (physical or academic), a special trip they went on in the summer, or what they are looking forward to in my class or the high school experience in general.
Once the students have had a minute to brainstorm their "gem" to share to the class, I will ask for volunteers. I only want 3-5 students to share out at this point because the students will pair-share in a partner interview that will come later in the lesson.
This is also a great time to identify your social leaders among your students and begin to consider how to use their "outgoing" personalities to enrich your classroom and not deter from your curriculum. These 3-5 volunteers tend to become my classroom helpers throughout the year in an effort to give them that extra role they desire in the classroom community.
This class discussion will review the logistics of the day such as the bell schedule, where the closest bathroom is, where the best place to stand in line to get lunch, etc.
Since today is the first day of high school for most of the students, I want to make sure that each student has the potential to connect to some aspect of the campus. I will take this time to review First Day Announcements in an effort to pique the interest of even the most timid students.
This is also the time that I announce to the students that my room is open at lunch two days a week so that they know they have a positive, supportive place to go if they are in need of that social support. It is hard to remember all that way back to our first day of high school, but I know I wish I had a teacher that helped calm my fears in this way. This a time to offer extra academic support or just an ear for them to ask questions about their new campus.
This opening day is truly 9th Grade 101!
Now that the stress level has been lowered through the volunteers sharing their "unique" talents and I have provided the necessary logistical announcements for they day, the students will work with their "elbow partners" to get to know each other a little better. Their elbow partners are the students who sit closest to them. The students will remain lab partners with their elbow partners throughout the first quarter.
The students will have 3 minutes each to interview their partner by asking them questions from the Partner Interview sheet. I will always let groups know when they have 1 minute remaining to ensure that all students get ample time to share. When there is a larger project I will either verbalize or record on the front board a countdown so students can manage their time wisely. I also suggest that each student take notes from their interview, but I do not tell the students the big surprise - that they will introduce their partners to the class!
I let the partner interview happen organically, but once the timer goes off, I announce that they (the students) will introduce their partners. Once the students learn that they are presenting their partners, they will request another minute to confirm any unfinished details from their interview. This partner activity demonstrates the importance of "really" listening to our partners and not just giving them the social courtesy. The lesson here is that our lab partners are important to each student's success in this course and they need to be treated as such!
To begin the student introductions, I ask the two partners to stand at their seats. I do not have the students come to the front of the classroom on the first day in an effort to build their confidence in my classroom slowly. Next, choose a way to get the discussion started, for example, have the tallest person go first, or the shortest, or the one with the longest hair (my personal favorite). Each student will introduce his/her partner's name and provide two interesting details from the interview to the class. The presenting partner can pick any fact from their interview notes, if they wrote them down. Some students select the most interesting facts and others rely on the only details that they can remember. This provides for a wide range of details that are shared to the class which further builds our classroom culture! Both partners will be given the opportunity to present and the whole class will clap at the conclusion of the pair's presentation. Again, working to build social confidence and build capacity in our classroom.
We will rotate around the room until all pairs have had the opportunity to share. Again, encouraging the clapping for each pair's presentation. The louder, the better!
In addition to getting all of the required paperwork signed this evening, I also have my students set a short and long term goal for this course. As their year-long teacher, I want to know what each student wants to get from the class. This information helps me to differentiate my approach and teaching style to best meet the needs of the wide range of student-learners in my classroom.
As I mentioned before, I have had the most success with student learning when my students understand that I truly value all of their attributes and not just the ones that are specific to my Biology class. This quick homework assignment emphasizes my effort to teach the "whole" student.
I mentioned all of the required paperwork my students will receive on the first day, this is the Course Syllabus, the Lab Safety Contract, and my District's AUP (acceptable use policy). I will also introduce many more student handouts in my next lesson - "Building a Foundation for Success".