What are you going to do on the first day of school? Whatever you decide, make sure it’s memorable! Let the other teachers do the rules and the syllabi and what supplies students need. In your class on the first day of school this year, your new students will be engaged, trying new things, getting to know each other (and you), and learning some science. Here are some great first day of school activities for middle school science to get them out of their seats and into the learning zone!
Getting to Know You
Start the day with a getting to know you activity. Can’t be boring and can’t take all period – 5-10 minutes, max. I try to do a different activity each day for the first week or two. Try these:
- Getting to know you bingo – set a timer and see who can get the most signatures in 5 minutes.
- Group or team ice breakers – build a house of cards on your lab table or balance a bean on your straw while walking across the room.
- Would you rather – I played this with a PearDeck last year, but this year I’m going to do it as stations. One question at a station, students travel in groups of 3 and discuss for 1 minute.
- Two truths and a lie – in small groups for 3-4 minutes, this can be fun. In larger groups, it’s all a boring blur.
- Jenga questions – write would-you-rather or general getting-to-know-you questions on jenga blocks and have students pull a block from the stack and answer the questions.
- Line up – give students a criteria like birth date or height and have them line up without talking to each other.
One of the few permanent things in my classroom are the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 in the corners. Give a getting-to-know-you kind of question like: “Go to Corner 1 if you have no pets, corner 2 if you have a dog or cat, corner 3 if you have multiple pets, and corner 4 if you have an unusual pet.” Then, let them talk about it for a minute or two. All year long, I use the corners as my Do Now or as a way to poll the class. Later in the year: “Go to corner 1 if you think GMOs are perfectly safe, Corner 2 if you think they are sometimes safe, corner 3 if you think that we should only use them if we have to, and corner 4 if you think they should be banned.”
Classroom Scavenger Hunt
I usually give students a map and ask them to label the locations of the safety equipment and other places they need to know about – where to hand in homework, where to borrow a pencil, etc.
This year, I’m thinking about hanging QR codes around the room pointing students to info like how to join the class Google Classroom, class rules, or bookmarking my email address.
If you’ve ever read this blog before, you know I’m deeply into gamifying my classroom and I’ll play a game for just about any activity. On the first day of school, however, no one really knows what to do and it’s hard to get them to work together. My favorite way to engage kids in a game is with an escape room. Try a simple digital escape room that encourages students to work in groups and can be completed in under 20 minutes. Three of my favorites are:
An alternative might be to design your own escape room (digital or with a locked box for each group of students) using clues around your classroom like the location of the safety equipment.
The Scientific Method
This requires a bit of preparation but kids talk about it for years. I always prepare my seating charts in advance and post them on the projector and let students find their own seats. Then, I tell them that they’re not seating alphabetically by last name and challenge them to guess-and-check how I’ve chosen to arrange their seats. Some years, I use birth date. Other years, I’ve used their house numbers or arranged them alphabetically by their mother’s first name or street name. There have been classes that have taken three or four days to solve the puzzle and then they beg me to rearrange them a different way so they can figure it out again. Just a word of caution – if you’re doing this with multiple classes, make sure you use a different secret arrangement with each class because they will talk about this one.
Challenge your students with 20 pieces of uncooked spaghetti, 12 inches of masking tape, and a marshmallow at each table. Tell them that they have to build the highest tower they can, with the marshmallow on top, in 8 minutes. I usually reward the winning table with ice cold water bottles or a lollipop.
Introduce my friend
Have students pair up, chat for 3 minutes, then introduce their new friend to the class by stating their name and something interesting about them. Alternately, have each pair of students create a crazy handshake and them demo it for the class.
R, P, S
Pair up students. Each pair plays 3 quick rounds of rock, paper, scissors. The winner moves on to play against another pair’s winner. Keep going until you have one champion and put that person’s name on your white board for 24 hours under a giant “RPS CHAMPION” title.