I don't know about you but reading rules and listening to syllabi isn't my idea of a good time. I want to set the bar of the classroom culture to be interactive, challenging and supportive.
This year, since I've taught this group of students 2 years ago, I thought I'd change it up a bit. Do something that is engaging and low key....something that would give me a chance to walk around and establish some personal connections.
Since I'm teaching 8th grade science and big chunk of our year will involve chemistry....why not start with a simple, unstructured interaction with the periodic table. To model what I wanted students to create I showed them how the periodic table had different letters that stood for each of the elements. Next I shared my name written with element symbols from the periodic table. They were to pick their own symbols to write out their name and then research 2 "fun facts" about each element. The facts had to be "fun"...no boiling points, no atomic weights, or when it discovered unless accompanied by the story of how. We'll have plenty of time for all these things later....right now my objective was to use this shortened week to establish connections and for them to ease into the school routine.
Here's a perfect example of what happened....as the student investigated an element that contained an "A" for their name, they picked arsenic and the class was swept up into the intrigue of arsenic...also known as Paris Green. There's a whole story that explains how this element in its green crystal form was used to tint paint green. It was incorporated into wall paint and to print wallpaper in Paris during the mid 1770s. People started getting sick and eventually it was traced back to the arsenic in the green paint. Gruesome to be sure, but a fun fact!
I had ample time to walk around and ask almost everyone how their summer went, listen to a favorite story, share a little about my own summer and just connect. Sometimes they only wanted to talk about their project but mostly they seemed happy to talk about the high points of their summer experiences.
I didn't have enough library books or student computers to allow each student to research their facts during that first day so I asked them to bring a smartphone if they had one. (In future assignments, I'll be able to give them warning so they can bring a phone, a tablet or even a reader with internet access.) They were totally engaged in searching out facts...and students that didn't have a device shared with their table partners. I made up a simple worksheet that they used to create a rough draft.
It took us two days....one day for me to model and for them to get started, an evening's HW to find 2 fun facts if they didn't find them in class, and another day to create their final copy name plate.