Day 1

To start the school year off in my classes I didn’t just want to go over rules, procedures, and syllabus as usual. I wanted to get the class started thinking, but not learning (if that makes any sense). I wanted more of a dynamic review, let’s say. I also wanted to model how the courses would continue from here, lots of collaboration, presentation, problem solving, and general outside-the-box thinking.



Tennis ball

Tennis ball (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After calling role and putting forth an honest effort to remember twenty new names, I held up a tennis ball and told my students that it was the sun. I then asked them if they were the teacher what would be some good questions to pose given the scenario. I got several, we’ll say ‘interesting’ questions, and several really great questions. We finally decided on, “if the tennis ball was the sun, how far from the tennis ball would the earth be?” So we ran with it.


Taking a page out of Dan Meyer‘s book (actually a lot of this is from his hypothetical book), I wanted the students to buy into what I was presenting, so I asked them to take a marker and mark where they thought the earth would be. Almost all of these predictions were similar, only a few brave souls would venture to put their dot more than four or five feet from their classmates. After everyone had locked in their answers I then asked them, “what do we need to solve this?” Many students were very good at identifying the necessary information: diameter of the sun, diameter of the tennis ball, and distance to the sun; what they weren’t as good at was setting up and solving the actual ratio. I allowed them to work collaboratively on that for a while, before, as a class, we discussed the results.


Aside from the mathematical difficulties, I think students really enjoyed the task and were all surprised at how far the earth actually was from the sun. Side note: After giving this result, I asked them to predict where Mars would be which lead to an interesting discussion of the Bode Law.




Here I borrowed largely from Frank Noschese. My students were greeted with a card that I told them to put their name on the back of. Once class began, I told them to group themselves according to the words on their card and that there should be five groups of three. After that I sat down and they went to work. Throughout the ten minutes frustration abounded, all they wanted was for me to tell them the answer, which we often do as educators, but I sat stalwart and waited. Eventually they figured it out and were quite pleased with themselves. I gave a brief overview of the game and then we moved on.


After the card game, we moved on to the Marshmallow Challenge. They had a ton of fun with this one and we had some pretty interesting designs. I do agree with Frank in his post, that you need to let the students tape their tower down to the table, otherwise it’s really tough to get good results. The winning tower was 24″. Afterwards, I used the activity to discus the modeling process: model development, model deployment, and model failure.


I’m excited to start the new year with some great learners that are going to do amazing things.




UPDATE: Since writing this I have actually found a few other “first day” activities that I liked: Encrypted syllabus, personality coordinates, and index card tower




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