Home > compsci, Hotchkiss, teaching > Mon 8/29: What to do on Day One

Mon 8/29: What to do on Day One

I was just reading an excellent post by Ben Wildeboer on his blog about what to do on Day One, and it made me reflect on the evolution of this curious pedagogical organism in my classes over the years. In the beginning, when I was teaching at NMH, I used to do a very traditional first-day lesson plan: pass out the course description, pass out the schedule, answer any questions, and have a nice day. (Yeah, I really used to suck as a teacher.) The only odd thing is that I used to have my students make little name tents for themselves out of manila folders that they would put on their desks for the first few days until I learned all their names. This probably wasn’t necessary, but it did provide a neat opportunity for nostalgia as I amassed an ever-growing stack of manila folder name tents.

Here at Hotchkiss, I don’t do handouts on the first day, and I don’t need the name tents. Part of the reason for both these facts is that CS enrollment here, as with many of our peer schools, is dreadfully low. (One of our neighboring schools won’t be teaching any computer science again this year because the math teacher who covered those classes left school.) Most of my classes usually begin with 2-4 students, and then I hold my breath to see how they will grow during the drop/add period. Usually I am the beneficiary of some schedule conflicts, which doesn’t bother me at all. Whatever puts warm bodies in my classroom is fine with me.

Anyway, a lot of the activities that are floating around the Web work really well with 15-20 students, but seem a bit comical with only two or three. (“Get in groups — oh, wait.”) So I made a decision a few years ago that I would reschedule Day One into Day Two. We do all that boring handout stuff on the second day of classes. Instead, on the first day, we just roll up our sleeves and get to work. After a very brief introduction, I throw my students into programming, or web design, or whatever the first unit is about. I figure, the best way to hook them is to show them what they have in store. And it certainly gets the momentum going as soon as possible.

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Categories: compsci, Hotchkiss, teaching
  1. jseelke@gmail.com
    September 7, 2011 at 3:16 am

    Roger – I had classes of 25 or so, and I always made them do work on Day 1. As for the syllabus, I often said, “You got into this school, so I know you can read…” Many were shocked that we not only did work but also had HW on the first day of school. But it clearly set the tone that I was going to demand a lot out of them – and for the most part that really made a difference.

  2. rwistar
    September 7, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    Hey John! Yes, I totally agree with your comment about setting the right tone from the first day. You need to start building momentum as early as possible!

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