First Days of School – WOW Them!

Hopefully you are enjoying your Summer of 2010.

I hope it is a time to recharge your batteries and kick back a little.  For those of you who are educators out there, are you starting to think about next year yet?  No?  Ok, maybe it’s too soon right now.  I hear ya!  Actually, I can hear my friends’ voices and what they are saying, right now as I write this!

But when you do start thinking about it, here are a couple of tips I wanted to share with you to get you started for the beginning of school – ideas from “WOW! Adding Pizzazz to Teaching and Learning” by Stephen G. Barkley with Contributing Editor Terri Bianco, (2005) from Really Good Stuff (yes, the place I get the EZC Readers from and lots of other teacher-loved goodies) – So see if any of these spark an idea for you… Oh, and by the way, WOW is a way to motivate and engage your students in a worthwhile learning and teaching experience:

WOW  #1:  “The Snapping Dollar Bill”

(Barkley & Bianco, 2005, p. 35-36)

As high school math students enter the classroom, their teacher hands each of them a dollar bill.  That’s a WOW right there.

They take their seats, and the teacher takes another dollar bill and jerks it tightly by pulling on either end, creating a loud snapping sound.  He does this a few times as students watch and listen.

‘You all received a dollar bill,’ he points out sternly.  ‘If you pass this class, you get to keep it.  If you do not pass this class, you have to pay me interest on the dollar bill.’  Students are a little taken aback, curious, intrigued.

‘You have to pay back the dollar bill,’ he repeats, ‘with interest compounded daily.’  Now students look to one another to see if anyone comprehends this.

‘Uh,’ says one student, ‘like how much would that be?’

‘Ah,’ says the teacher smiling.  ‘So glad you asked!’  And so begins the first math lesson.

Throughout the school year, if students working in groups are struggling over a problem for which no one seems to have an answer, the teacher walks among them, snapping the dollar bill as a reminder to keep working, figure it out.  When a student forgets his or her homework, he snaps the dollar again, saying, ‘Pay attention! This could get expensive!’

WOW #2: “Survival Kit”

(Barkley & Bianco, 2005,p. 37-40)

A sixth-grade English class begins with a teacher dressed in camouflage gear.

‘Okay,’ students wonder, ‘what are we in for now?’

On each student’s desk rests a small nylon bag with a zipper and a handle.  Adhered to the top of each bag is a wide white tape with words in block letters ‘SIXTH GRADE SURVIVAL KIT.’

The teacher stands straight and stiff before the class, hands on hips military style, and directs the students to become acquainted with their Survival Kits – to unzip them and check the contents carefully.

They do so and find a compass, a small flashlight, a Band-Aid, and a pack of Lifesaver candies.  ‘Huh?’ the students wonder, intrigued.

‘Welcome to Surviving Sixth Grade!’ says the teacher, hands still on hips but smiling now.  ‘We are going to work on the beautiful skill of creative writing,’ she smiles.  ‘That is sometimes nerve-wracking for some, and yet I want you to survive and succeed in this class, so you can use this Survival Kit throughout the year to ensure you complete the mission of learning how to write well,’ she adds.

‘What are these things for?’ the students ask.

‘The compass is to help you find the direction you want to take with your writing,’ says the teacher.  ‘Each piece you write will have its own direction, its own plot and theme.’

‘The Lifesavers are there when you need help.  I will always be available to you to help and guide you through the writing process.’

‘What about the Band-Aid?’ asks one student.

‘Ah.  These are very handy,’ the teacher responds.  ‘You see, when correcting your writing, I use a red pen.  Some think the papers I return look downright bloody.  So the Band-Aid can be used as your safety valve.  You can place the Band-Aid right over a grade that really disturbs you – the grade that may accompany a red-splotchy paper.’

‘Cool,’ says another student.  ‘How often can we do that?’

‘Just once,’ says the teacher, smiling.  ‘We all have some writing we’re not truly proud of.  The muse just didn’t happen or we got tangled up in the story.  That’s not the end of the world and I want you to have another chance, so if you put a Band-Aid on a paper you’re not crazy about, I’ll eliminate the grade.’

‘Wow,’ whisper the students. ‘That’s awesome.’

In the back of the classroom, there are logs stacked up with a glow from a light underneath them.  Cushions and low-backed chairs are all around the logs.  The whole scene resembles a cozy campfire.  She dims the lights in the classroom, picks up a book, and proceeds to settle down with them to begin reading from the first creative writing book.

Throughout the year, the students use their Survival Kit to ask for direction, help, assistance, and to camouflage the grade on that really bad story they wrote.  Whenever a new book or topic is introduced, the teacher asks them to grab their flashlights and join her at the campfire glowing (from a hidden flashlight) at the back of the room.

A gift – a WOW – that keeps on giving.

OK now it’s your turn…  What wonderful first days of school ideas can you share?

Reply to this blog, and tell us your ideas.

Be the first brave one to share!  A first day of school WOW that promises to engage your students in the learning process.  And as Barkley and Bianco suggest, don’t start with your rules.  B-O-R-I-N-G.  Think, instead, of helping your Pre-K to adult learners get hooked into your teaching.  I look forward to hearing from you.

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