Wednesday, September 03, 2014
Wise and worldly readers, what was/is your favorite first day of class activity?
I usually students what they think writing is, which, like your activity, seems like a quick and easy question. Inevitably, though, folks start disagreeing about whether texting (or whatever) should count, and suddenly the question of what exactly we'll be doing in the course becomes salient. That's helpful in comp 101, especially, to get students to realize they're not in 13th grade.
One of the best topics I've given for the small group discussion is best and worst learning experiences. It opens a door to fruitful discussion about instructor and student roles in creating a good learning environment. Plus, everyone has a horror story to share about a bad class.
Then I do the syllabus walk.
1. Syllabus walk -- because kids really care about knowing all the details of grading from day 1 and I want my policies to be crystal clear.
2. I put on a two minute puppet show using stuffed-animal-like cells and microbes from giantmicrobes.com -- which shows that I'm fun, in a way that's related to the content.
3. Start Chapter 1 -- because I want to set the tone that we don't waste a minute. My lecture for this topic involves a discussion about what science is that can get very lively, so it isn't a dry lecture (but I try to keep all of my lectures as interesting as possible).
I love your activity, DD, sounds like fun and learning both happen.
-- includes a link to a nice list from Gradhacker back in 2012.
I've managed to get the pro-forma stuff down to 10 minutes in the second-semester physics class I teach. Pointing out the differences from the first semester also suffices to show newcomers from other colleges or universities the basics of the day-to-day operation of the class, and I try to get them teamed up with a mentor who has had me for a class before.
First semester is harder, but not because of the syllabus. I absolutely must be absolutely clear about the majors that are in the wrong class because they often sign up without proper advising. I assign the syllabus as homework, homework that includes calculating a grade from possible exam and homework scores. Most of the time is spent demonstrating how the on-line homework system works, including examples of typical new-user snafus, and reviewing by example the basics of unit conversion they are expected to know from chemistry or pick up from the intro chapter we skip in lecture. Not really new material, but not a waste of time either.
1. "Elbow Room" from Schoolhouse Rock - 1976
2. "Pirates and Emperors" - a Schoolhouse Rock spoof from the mid-2000s. (It's on YouTube)
3. The Thanksgiving play scene from Addams Family Values
After each short clip I ask students these questions:
1. What story is the video telling? What does it want you to believe about American history?
2. What did the video get "right"?
3. What did it get "wrong"?
4. What got left out?
5. Is it "true"/"truthful"?
6. What's the purpose? Who's the audience? Why does that matter?
I stole and modified this from someone I TA-ed for in grad school and have used it ever since. It's never once let me down.
It allows me to talk about narrative and storytelling, argument, evidence, audience, persuasion, and why facts matter and why they don't ever "speak for themselves."
And I get "credit" for showing videos, even if I almost never do it ever again. . .