Going through your syllabus is not the only first day of class activity that I do. I spend the day setting up the class, giving them expectations, and orienting them in several ways. I do not “teach” in the traditional sense any material of the curriculum. Here are some first day activities I do. Anybody else with helpful first day activities to prepare your class for the semester, please comment or post a guest post.
- Who are you? There are a lot of getting to know you activities you can do. Some work better with big classes, some work better with small classes. One that I always do – no matter the size (although I haven’t yet taught 400 people) is to take the pictures of every single student, so I can learn their names. I bring them to the front of the class in groups of 4. Each student writes their name on the board above their heads (the name they prefer). I take a picture with my phone, and I promise not to share it. Since the students are older than 18, they can consent to having their pictures taken (or decline), so there is no FERPA issues. I don’t share it with them, but when they graduate, I send them the picture to give them a smile. The students love getting out of their chairs, and the activity gets them used to unusual activities in the class right from the start.
- How we teach science and why? Before I let the students leave, I take them through how and why we teach science the way we do. Specifically, I tell them where problem sets came from. In essence, people were not learning from lectures, so they hired tutors. The tutors had students do practice problems. Through the act of problem solving, the students learned the material and how to solve other problems. Further, I talk about the principles of the core curriculum of the department and the rationale for its execution. I talk about active learning, and the fact that they are ultimately responsible for what they learn. I am here to facilitate and help that process, but my “blah, blah, blah” cannot force knowledge and skills into their heads. The small group work and homework sessions (more to come on that) is where students will learn, and they will learn best by applying themselves and trying and failing, and trying again until they succeed. This pep talk goes a long way to setting up expectations. They know I am a hard ass who cares about them learning. I firmly believe that this orientation actually helps to give me better evaluations from the students, because it sets up the class. They know what to expect.
After this, I end the class – hopefully 5 minutes early. I set a timer to end the class everyday 5 minutes early to give time to ask questions or give other messages. I let the students know that I will try to end the class 5 minutes early, but if the timer goes off while we are in the middle of something, then we will take it to the end of class.
If anyone has other first day, class orientation suggestions, please comment or guest post!