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First Week of School!

In the summer of 2013, I had the opportunity to go to the Model Schools Conference in Washington D.C.  I got some nuggets to bring back to my school and classroom.  One of my colleagues picked up a golden nugget and shared it with me as we rode to the airport.  Start the year off with several days of team building activities-including debriefing about the activity-before you introduce your actual first unit of study.

My partner in crime, Kristina, and I set about re-working the first few day of school.  We decided that we would devote the first four days of school to team building and getting to know you activities.  We also made the conscious decision to do a team building activity after every test we took last year.  This was roughly 14 days of non-instruction team building lessons.

The result – we covered almost the exact same amount of material as we had the previous year in our PreAP Precalculus classes.  I followed this same structure in my Calculus and got to the same point that I had reached in previous years.  We also had to deal with mother nature not cooperating and lost seven additional days to weather.

We discovered that students worked better together throughout the school year, and because they were more familiar with each other from the beginning, we were able to move quicker during the year.  Students were better with helping each other more frequently and not spending so much time just waiting for a teacher.  On the other hand, students who are new to a building were able to meet several people in a controlled and safe way early in the school year.  This allowed them to develop friendships more quickly and assimilated them into our school culture faster.

Day 1

Students are allowed to come in and sit where they want.  Kristina and I created a Kahoot to get to know the students.  Those students without connected devices shared with those who were connected.  We briefly went over the syllabus and then Kristina and I traded classrooms, me in hers and her in mine (we teach OUR students).  We both had the students play “Take a Hike:

  • Students are in groups with the teacher also participating
  • Person who is “it” makes a statement (Ex: If you are wearing clothes, take a hike)
  • If the statement applies to you, then take a hike to a new group
  • Last person standing is “it”
  • Rinse and repeat

Day 2

Marshmallow Challenge Day.  Kristina and I pre-made the challenge kit: 1 yard of string, 1 yard of masking tape, 20 uncooked spaghetti noodles and 1 marshmallow.  As the students came in we had them all divided into groups of three or four, gave them a quick overview and started the music.  Check out a video here.  

  • 1 paper bag filled with: 1 yard of string, 1 yard of masking tape, 20 sticks of uncooked spaghetti and 1 marshmallow
  • scissors for the students to use
  • a playlist that is 18-20 minutes long (start when the music does, stop when the music does)
  • One rule: from the desktop, construct the tallest structure possible, that will support the entire marshmallow.  Do what you need to with all of the other supplies.
  • Debrief after the challenge: most difficult thing, what had to happen first, etc.

Day 3

We checked out the iPad cart, divided our kids into new groups, and had them create iMovie teaser trailers.  The rules were simple – by the end of the period, each group needed to have a fully completed movie trailer AND we wanted to learn something about each student.  The cool thing about this one is that the kids went and got really creative – so sometimes we didn’t get the one cool thing part.  The important thing is that they worked together to create the movie.  Side note – very few groups had enough time to fully complete the trailer and that was part of the challenge.  Check this one out!

  • 1 iPad per group of 3 or 4 students
  • the iMovie app already installed on the iPad
  • create one teaser trailer
  • students only have one class period to do this project

Day 4

Pre-requisite skills scavenger hunt.  Kristina and I created 10 problems that we felt students should be able to solve – maybe not super quickly – but in their groups, determine a correct answer.  We changed our groups up again and made sure that each group had a connected device with a QR scanner.  Almost every question had multiple choice answers (only a couple of the questions did not), students scanned the QR code that matched the answer they got.  One of the choices was to go to the principal’s office (where the code sent them back to their previous location).  The correct choice sent them to the next location in the building.

  • 1 connected device with a QR reader per group of 3 to 4 students
  • math questions scattered around the building, 10 works in our large school, adjust this accordingly
  • 1 answer sheet for students to use while working
  • calculators are helpful but not mandatory for this exercise

Day 3 and 4 would be awesome for debriefing, but we have a 50 minute period and the students use almost the entire time.  It would be really challenging to get them to complete all tasks and have time for meaningful debriefing.  But by the time we end the scavenger hunt, the students are more comfortable with those in the room than they were at the beginning of the week.  We continue to do team building after every test and some of those things that we have tried include: the paper airplane challenge, twitter scavenger hunt, logic/problem solving questions.  These days usually (but not always), do not include specific math skills.

If you want to know more about why we do what we do with team building, message me in the comments below!  The team building made a huge difference last year and someone could probably improve the process and make it super amazing!

Week one is in the books and it started out super great!


About Scott

My name is Scott. After 18.5 years as a high school math teacher in public education I have made the move to become a full time PhD student. This decisions was difficult, but has been one of the most rewarding things that I have ever done. Teaching in high school was an incredible experience for me, so leaving an environment that I loved for the unknown was a challenge. As I high school teacher, I taught almost every math course that could be offered. I was able to earn National Board Certification in Young Adult Math. I was honored as my building Teacher of the Year, no mean feat at Edmond Memorial High School!! My career changed as I became fascinated with educational technology and all of the things that it can do for teachers. I flipped my class. I used iPads and blogging (in high school math!!). I started using gamification and mastery learning. I changed my practice. I chose to go back to school to learn as much as I could. To bring that knowledge from academia and research to the teacher on the front line. I have had the opportunity to present at several conferences and share what I have learned with others. Its through these connections that we can be the best teachers we can for our students. They deserve it and we sell ourselves short when we don't give it. I love talking with teachers about change. About incorporating educational technology. About the power that they have to change lives. My blog space is me, it shares my passions and frustrations, my joys and my learnings. If you are interested in what I am studying, please visit my graduate school pages. If you are interested in the flipped classroom, I have some links to get your started. I would love to meet you! Do not hesitate to reach out! I would enjoy the opportunity to work with your staff or trade ideas with your teachers - let me know! Have a great day! #BeBrilliant


2 thoughts on “First Week of School!

  1. What a great idea. I also started out doing team building. In the spring semester, I did Creativity Mondays with my students, costing me nearly one class period a week. It was my take on the famous 20% time. Even though it wasn’t content specific, I believe it was extremely important in building confidence in my students. So often their school experience is overly focused on test scores. I wanted them to know there was more to life than that.

    Thanks for sharing your experience and ideas, Scott. I hope others will consider implementing a few of their own team building activities this year.


    Posted by fibo | August 24, 2014, 10:30 am

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