Activities for the first day of class!

by Stephanie Chasteen on August 14, 2008

The first day of class is coming up — here are some nice activities you can use on the first day, or anytime you need a warm-up activity.

One teacher suggests:

Look at the Nature of Science activities at the ENSI website. There are many, many fun and interesting ones to choose from and you can use them to launch a discussion (that could continue throughout the school year) about what science is and what it isn’t. All of my students, both at the secondary level and in methods classes love to do these activities. It’s a big site with many possibilities for evolution as well.

Another teacher tells us:

A first day activity I have used for 6th and 7th grade students is to have a classroom scavenger hunt, where each student (or partners) have an outline map of the classroom and a list of items to find. As they locate each item they must label its appropriate place on the clasroom map. I put silly things such as the stuffed crocodile as well as important things such as pencil sharpener, homework assignment, etc. It is a fun activity because it gets them up and walking around to find things, as well as consulting each other for help

Another recounts:

Scene memory. I give the students a series of scenes that they will need to investigate for a moment or two. After that, the students will need to remember as many facts as they can about the scenes. This is a nice way for them to begin the scientific process and begin working in groups if you would like that.

And another has two possibilities:

“The Directions Game”
As students enter the room you hand them an index card. You can number the cards and the desks and have them sit accordingly OR you can tell them to sit where you want. Each card has a direction or statement on it. Once people are settled you explain that each person will, in turn, do or say the direction on the card. You may start by saying “Welcome to Ms. B’s Physics class.” One student’s card will say “After Ms. B. has said ‘Welcome…’ you stand, introduce yourself and say, “the pencil sharpener is there (point) in the back of the classroom.” ” There will be another student whose card indicates they will go next and on it goes. What’s nice about this is YOU don’t do ANYTHING. They say it all and remember it. It breaks the ice and is no stress for them because they have a script. The cards can have rules for the class, directions on where
things are or you can work in other things. You could also give them opportunities to share, little things like “stand up and say your favorite color.” You can make as many or as few as you want.

“Speed Lab sans supplies”
I had wanted to do that last year but was unable to as I was kicked out of my room for the first three days of school. I was put in the cafeteria on the first day with nothing. No syllabus, no supplies. I borrowed a portable whiteboard and a set of timers. I asked students to get into groups of three and somehow figure out their own personal times and group average times for four activities: walking, jogging, running, and a “funny walk.” We defined “funny walk” as anything other than walking, jogging, etc. that had to make your group mates laugh. I had no yardsticks so they had to come up with a way to do it without. They were actually really involved! Some used the length of the room as a distance, others used the tables, some used their own papers as distance units and only a few realized the tiles on the floor were a foot on each side. It worked out really well.

And one late arrival:

I went to a great workshop by John Sweeney and Antonia Corzine (St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School, Memphis, TN) at NSTA on what to do on the first day or two of school. I’m going to try it this year. He gives every student a piece of gum when they walk in the door of his classroom. Then he puts the students in groups of 3 and they blow 10 bubbles each. The student in the group that has the largest average bubble size becomes the official bubble blower, another one becomes the recorder and the last is the measurer with the calipers (ruler with paperclips attached). The task is to test two different brands of bubble gum to see which one enables the user to get the biggest bubbles. He said his room is just full of data everywhere and there is so much bliss. :)

The worksheets for the above activity are available here as a PDF (3.6 MB)

And one more!

How about having them draw a picture of what they think a scientist looks like. Most will draw a crazy guy in a lab coat. You could then discuss what scientists really do and explore stereotypes and assumptions, which leads to the differences between inferences and observations. I find that it really stimulates discussion and gets the kids involved.

From Pat’s Picks for STEM Educators. These “class warm-up” activities are good for anytime, not just the first day. Occasionally one finds a few minutes that need to be filled with a fun activity or an activity designed to stimulate discussion. See Pat’s original post with some great resources here.

And a first day activity about the nature of scientific inquiry — What sorts of things fall in the realm of science? First, estimate the sizes of objects, starting with a textbook, human, classroom, building, etc.  Then estimate the mass of each of these.

Plotting the graph of radius vs mass (on a log-log graph) yields a band of data points.  (Not quite a line, but the data points do hover close to each othere in a band-like manner) Observing the band one almost always asks are there things that exist outside of this band?  Science is an activity that is done with objects that we either directly or indirectly observe and then we quantify their attributes.  So the observed band is the current realm of entities that scientists can do science on.

Over the years I modified this activity to include having the students find the radius and mass of their house.   This requires making good estimations of size and also good approximations of calculations, such as knowing the foundation might be concrete and using the density of concrete with an estimated sze of the foundation, to find its weigh or mass. After plotting common objects and then some really big objects (sun, solar system, etc as well as the really small such as cells and sub atomic particles)  I spend a bit of time asking students what is the requirement for us to expand the current band?  Did other non-western cultures have the same band?- did they concentrate on observing different things?, etc.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar pat viele August 14, 2008 at 9:53 am

This cross pollenation is the beauty of blogging! Thanks for your contributions.

Pat

avatar Ms. Denk August 18, 2008 at 8:23 pm

Please email me the worksheets for the

bubble gum activity. I can’t wait to try it

The kids will love this and it will jump

start my science project introduction.

YES !!! Thank You

avatar sciencegeekgirl August 19, 2008 at 4:49 pm

I’m getting the worksheet from the original creator (just waiting for her to email me back) — I’ll post them here and email them directly to Ms. Denk above.

If anyone else has good first day activities, please post them here in the comments! This page is getting a fair amount of traffic over the past few days — share your expertise!

avatar sciencegeekgirl August 20, 2008 at 8:58 am

I’ve added the PDF of the bubble gum activity for all interested!

avatar AMY August 29, 2011 at 1:26 am

I always start my first day of school with a fun hands on activity. Each stgudent plants a TickleMe Plant seed. TickleMe Plants are the only plants that will close their leaves and lower their branches when tickled. I find the kids love getting up and working together and then taking home their onw PET TickleMe Plant, which they talk about all year long as it grows. You can find more educational information and greenhouse kits to grow your own at http://www.ticklemeplant.com

avatar Caitlin August 14, 2014 at 4:59 am

Awesome post! I am actually thinking of doing the “draw a scientist activity.” Another activity I will do in the first week is the MESA club’s build a paper tower. The students are handed a piece of printer paper, scissors, and tape as they walk in, and they compete to see who can build the tallest free standing tower.

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