I don’t know about you but my first week of school plans look more like a to-do list than actual lessons. I find it really important to set the stage for the year with strong routines and procedures (obviously). My first week of school tends to give students a little taste of some of the big things will do throughout the year but also needs to be very strict with high expectations.
I teach at a year-round school in North Carolina so we just finished our third week of school. While others are just starting to wind down their summer breaks, we are in full gear! I thought this might be great timing to share how I like to begin my school year. Some of the activities below are completed during the first week and some within the first month.
During the first week of school, I find it really necessary to complete some challenging or nearly impossible team building activity. You want the kids to work together to complete something that is really hard. This year we did a cup stacking activity. I started out simple and then added constraints to make it more and more difficult until I found their breaking point. I split my class into groups of 4. First, they were allowed to all stack the cups together however they wanted. The teams did great but all the stacks looked the same.
So I added constraints. I watched the groups closely during their first stacking experience. I identified that one kid who was not participating in each group. They were now the group leaders. Only the group leader was allowed to touch the cups the other group members could help by giving ideas and talking to them, but they could NOT touch the cups. Once they got started there was a chorus of, “this isn’t fair!” And then came the cacophony! Everyone and I mean EVERYONE, started shouting directions at the same time. I stopped the stack and had them come to the carpet to discuss what just happened. We talked about fairness and including every person in a group to work together. We talked about how in a group sometimes everyone has a different role or job. Then we stacked again. This time, everyone was allowed to touch the cups but no one was allowed to talk. They quickly realized they couldn’t collaborate without communicating. For the last stack, students weren’t allowed to touch the cups with their hands but they could use pipe cleaners and rubber bands to help. I showed a video of how some kids used these tools to help stack the cups. One group asked if they had to do it that way or if they could try another way. Of course, they could try whatever they wanted as long as they didn’t use their hands. The only group to successfully stack all of their cups was the group who tried something different. They begged to do this activity again, so I added it to our math stations for the next 2 weeks. They got quite good at it after some practice!
I’ve written about my flexible seating journey before. It is so very necessary to teach flexible seating explicitly. State your expectations. Ask volunteers to model the correct way and incorrect way. Explain these rules are for safety and fairness. And let them know that if they don’t make smart seating choices, I make the choice for them. Then we play a game. We play musical chairs with the flexible seating to get students a chance to practice and MOVE!
Roll out the Technology
We have a hodge-podge mix of technology at my school. We finally got rid of all of our desktop computers but we still have some old laptops, new laptops, older iPads and newer iPads, and BRAND SPAKING NEW CHROMEBOOKS! Kids need to grow their flexibility with devices. I introduce devices with a mixture of small group and whole group depending on the number of devices I can get my hands on. We do a number of independent and collaborative grouping activities on devices during the first weeks of school to allow practice and peer coaching. We also use BYOD at my school and I try to roll that out ASAP! With chromebooks, I’m only able to get a group of 6 kids on at once so that’s what I did. I had them practice logging in and logging out and that is all on the VERY FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL!
I can teach iPads with 1:1 devices. I like to start with chatterpix because it is intuitive and easy to use. Plus, its super cute and parents love it! I model using chatterpix to make a David craft talk and then how to save and upload it to seesaw. (AppSmashing the first week of school!) Then I allow them time to practice with 4 more crafts and chatterpix/seesaw activities. We also do a quick partner kahoot to help kids get used to sharing a device. I usually choose a math kahoot to start with.
It is so important to let kids know their ideas and opinions are important to the way my classroom runs. I try to get quick feedback daily with thumbs up thumbs down to see if they like or don’t like something we did. The first day of school, I give out a bucket list where I like to collect ideas about what my group likes to do and wants to try or learn. I make my own bucket list to pique their interest. My bucket list includes 3 act math, break out boxes and rooms (we’ll do our first one in week 4), badges, technology, PBL, coding, makerspace, STREAM, room transformations, genius hour, and more. I like to try to list things they don’t know so they get excited and ask questions. I also collect lists of books they love and things they want to read about. This helps me plan my classroom library (I don’t put out all of my books at once. I put out my favorites to start then change them out. I try to always have at least 1 bin of their favorites and 1 that might be brand new).
Along the same line, I teach the morning routine without our STREAM centers. I try to get them very independent with taking out their folder, hanging up their bookbag and signing in before they can make STREAM choices. If this isn’t strong, they will forget to do these important procedures so they can go play.
Last year I taught active listening skills in the third quarter. This year, I taught them the second week. We talk about and make an anchor chart for what active listening looks like, sounds like, and feels like. Then I watch for signs of active listening and take pictures. These pictures go on the anchor chart. Now, rather than telling kids to stop talking, I ask them if they are actively listening.
We talk about the importance of making learning mistakes, the powerful word YET, and growing our brain muscles. I love using the books Ish and Giraffes Can’t Dance to teach growth mindset. We also watch the big ideas on Growth Mindset in Class Dojo. I over celebrate mistakes to help kids feel safe taking risks and getting things wrong the first try.
This upcoming week we will do our first Google Classroom activity (google draw the setting of a favorite book), introduce BYOD, dive deep into independent centers and choices (most of which are tied to literacy standards), have a break out room (math- counting efficiently), and try our first reader’s theater (social studies- rules and citizenship) (hopefully with a Facebook live event).
Now that we are past the beginning of the year “stuff,” things become more closely tied to standards. A lot of my to-do list for the beginning of the year is not all standards-based but it does help us build a strong classroom community and set us up for trying new things throughout the year. What are your must-dos to start the year?