Monday, July 20, 2015

The 1st Day of School: Personal Powerful Play-doh Pods thanks to Dave Burgess!

Thanks to Dave Burgess’s Teach Like a Pirate, I’m staring at 120 containers of Play-doh and...I teach high schoolers. This summer, I had the pleasure of reading Dave Burgess’ Teach Like a Pirate. I love Dave’s teaching style: you know the term “extreme sports” well, he is an “extreme teacher.” Awesome stuff. In his book (page 26), he outlines his use of Play-doh on the first day of school. I ran with it and have developed a new opener this year that anyone can use (all grade levels/subject matters).  I will explain my version of Burgess' lesson step-by-step in this blog but first would like to discuss the importance of a dynamic 1st day.

It’s vital to open the year with fun, fun, fun. I avoid “the syllabus” like the plague the first three days for three reasons.

First, most often every other teacher is going over rules, grading, and homework policies...BORING...I can’t stand to think of them sitting through another one of those.

Secondly, at least in my school, our counseling office takes a few days to “balance” our classes, so kids I see on day one will not be the kids I see on day four. I may as well wait on the procedures until I have my forever class.

Lastly, but of utmost importance, I need that first class to be a B.L.A.S.T. I need them to go out at break and lunch and brag on our first moments together. They need to say to themselves: “This is going to be the best class ever.” Think of the power of that self-statement. This will become a self-fulfilling prophecy because in their minds they equate you and your class with joy. The chain reaction is...they will then bring joy to your room when they walk through the door next time.

Who said, “you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression?” I don’t know, but they were brilliant. Thinking we will have fun "later" is not going to work with a group of young people. Let them have fun FIRST, then there is buy-in and when you do eventually go over your syllabus and grading policies you will have them in the palm of your hand - kind of like Play-doh!.

Personal Powerful Play-doh Pods
1. Buy Play-doh in bulk online. I have 120 students so I had to spend about $70.00 for each kid to have a container.

2. Count out the amount of Play-doh containers you need for each class. Separate the Playdough into bags for each period.

3. Take index cards and WRITE the color of each Play-doh container lid on one index card per class. This was hysterical as my daughter and I tried to distinguish between “bright green” and “seafoam green.”  So now I have a bag of 36 Play-doh containers and 36 index cards that match each color (there are few doubles but not many - lots of crazy colors now!).
4. Go to your classroom and place one Play-doh container on each desk on top of a paper plate. I use the cheap plates that are thin and easy to write on. I have my desks in groups of four (I call them “Ohana pods”), and this lesson will connect to that number. Make sure there are no doubles in color - each kid in a group should have a different color.
5. On the first day, greet each kid at the door with a smile and an index card with a color. Tell them to match that color with a container of Play-doh and they have found their seat. I love this way of seating them for two reasons: they are not allowed to clique or group up with friends. This inevitably leaves some kids feeling alone and sad, and two it’s not a “seating chart” that you have created. It’s fun and leaves lots up to chance. I think it is the perfect blend of control and fun.
6. Once they have found their seat, ask them to write their first name LARGE on the perimeter of the paper plate. I also have them do a tri-fold name tent on a separate piece of paper. My focus on that first day is NAMES, NAMES, NAMES!
7. Now, without too much explanation, announce that they have 15 minutes to create something that represents who they are. The rules: they must use all of the colors in their Ohana pod. They can distribute colors anyway they like, but each creation should use all four colors of Play-doh. They also must memorize the three members of their group’s names. Ask that they put their phones away during the creation process and tell them we will be using them later.
8. Play some fun upbeat music during the 15 minutes and start working the room! (I enjoy 80s New Wave personally - Go, “Duran Duran”!). This is where I will float around and observe and chat with each of my groups, memorizing their names as I go. I carry a clipboard with my role sheet and take notes on their hair style, clothing, eye color, Play-doh creation, or something cute they may have said. This is also the time I observe who my shy kids are, my true artists, my rascals, my school haters, my flirts, and any other category you can come up with. I am a sociologist and these are my subjects.
9. At the end of the 15 minutes, have the kids write a title for their artwork on the perimeter of their paper plate (continuing from where they wrote their name). Now join two groups together (totaling eight kids now) and have them explain their creation to the new group. How does it connect to their life? How does it represent them?
10. After all groups have finished sharing, have the groups nominate three people who should share their creations whole class (the artists will have the choice to do this or not - I respect their right to pass on the 1st day).
11. This should allow for about 12 whole class presentations (usually resulting in your more outgoing kids and allowing the shy kids to avoid a panic attack). Whole class presentations come later in the school year when they are more comfortable.
12. Once the 12 or so presentations are done, we find space in back (you do need to create space!) and have kids place their creations next to each other. Then the whole class does a “gallery walk” (two groups at a time) to see everyone’s work of art.
13. I like to REALLY decorate my room with kid stuff for our “Back to School” night, which comes soon into the school year. High school parents are not used to see lots of decor, so they really dig it. I think they will love the Play-doh (Remember, it’s my first year doing this!)

My objectives for the above lesson:
1. Immediate team bonding in their Ohana pods.
2. Celebrates creativity. They will be creating in this class!
3. Fun! Learning should be fun.
4. Decorates our room for Back to School night.
5. Creates buzz on campus for kids that have my class later in the day.
6. Gives my nervous kids something to do with their hands as they talk to their teammates. This is very scary for some kids.
7. Gives me a chance to learn names using their creations as a memory device.
8. Allows insight into what is important to each kid. I use this information to create deeper connections to the kids and even plan lessons that will hook them.

Please let me know if you experiment with the Play-doh this year. I would love to compare notes. Have fun!


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  2. Replies
    1. Heather, Let me know how it goes! Yay for back to school!