Friday, August 24, 2012

Virtual Syllabus and First Day Activities

I'm one of the lucky ones who do not go back until after labor day. It gives me an entire extra week of Summer, but to be honest I really consider this the last true day. Next week I'll be in my classroom every day setting up, printing my coursepacks and putting everything together. I'm so excited for my first full year as a flipped class.

I have spent the summer creating videos and setting up Schoology, pick a day on the calendar and I can tell you what video lectures are that week and what projects the kids are doing in school. I have it all planned out...except for the first day.

I have a confession, I have never ever "planned" my first day. I have always just done a quick introduction: state your name and your favorite kitchen appliance (thought I was "changing up" the typical first day intros...oh how wrong I was). I then handed out the Syllabus, read it with the kids, usually run out of time before we finish reading it and send them on their way.....ew. How boring for a 7th grader, I as an adult would not want to do that 8 times in one day, I cannot fathom 13 year old me being any more enthused. If I really reflect on it, this first day style really did a disservice to the type of class I run, student centered, project based, and enthusiastic. In short it projected the opposite view.

Since this entire year is going to be flipped, and going to be different, I decided the first day needed to start differently. I wanted to convey that this year would be different, and why the flipped class would benefit them, so this is my (tentative) plan for the first day:

Students enter room and sit in groups. Each group will have the following on it: an ipad, string, tape, glue, and a pile of straws. Each group also has a supply draw next to it with things like whiteboards, markers, and scrap paper that they can utilize throughout the year. 

Students will be instructed to use whatever they have at their group's station to construct a tower with the straws. They will have 5 minutes, at the end the group with the tallest tower will get an A, second tallest a B, etc. They may not undo anything as they work, they can only add to what they've done. The catch: they cannot all.

After the five minutes I will explain that this grade does not count, and that I want to discuss with students what things would have made them more successful and helped them to communicate, I'm hoping for (and will gently nudge) answers such as:
background knowledge
plan in place
the ability to talk
use of phones
ability to look up examples and ideas
the ability to redo and fix mistakes

I want them to understand that in my class its OK to fail at first, many groups will have failed at this task. However its not OK to accept failure.

I'm then going to use this is as a segway to talk about the Flipped Class and how they will be encouraged to communicate, question, research, do and redo during class. How it will help them meet success and fix failed first attempts. We will discuss ways technology will help us to do this, and how having a background from the video lectures will help us to create a plan for our projects.

Finally we will use the ipads to flip through a virtual copy of the syllabus:

I created it to look more like a magazine, and less like a boring document. Students will receive a paper copy in the front of their coursepacks. I like that students can "flip" through it.

Before leaving they will receive instructions for signing onto Schoology and their Parent FAQ letter (which basically an adult version of their virtual syllabus). They will be asked to watch an Intro Video and Web Resource Video for homework that night.

I'm not sure if this will work or by the end of the day I'll be back to reading the syllabus, but its worth a try. 

What are you doing with your classes on the first day? Have you found ways to get away from the "reading of the syllabus" routine?


  1. That is a brilliant idea! Student engagement in your room is going to be through the roof.

    I started by posting a short video about myself I made though Screencast-O-Matic and a survey made with Google Forms. I posted both of those to my website ( and then used our school district messaging system to e-mail all of my incoming 6th graders. Before the students came to school they knew a little bit about me and I knew about them.

    What I really like is your tangible connection to a typical school day for a middle schooler and how your class will be different.

    1. Hi David,

      Thanks for the comment. I really like your video and survey idea. I may put together a little "About Me" video for our online class. Their first assignment in our online portal is to send me a message introducing themselves, but I really like the way your Google Form looks- I may borrow that idea and try it!

      Its always nice to hear from other enthusiastic educators (especially those in the trenches of middle school)!

      I hope your year is off to a great start!

  2. I just posted a blog about my first day ideas; I added a link to your post so that more people have a chance to read about what you are doing.

  3. I love this idea. I will be stealing this idea from you. I have been looking for something different to start out the year in my flipped classroom. I am looking forward to reading your blog throughout the course of the school year.