Summer Job

The August SCARRIES. When the calendar page flips to August 1st my heart rate defintely accelerates! I know the leisurely days of travel or lounging in front of the pool or watching baseball will quickly come to an end. It is time to get geared up for a new school year. Although the pace of the school year is intense, I’m excited to get back into the classroom to do the job I love. My goal though is to get approximately 130 7th graders equally excited. That can be a challenge.

For most of my career my first day routine was, uh, routine. Passing out books, going over the syllabus, and telling students about myself through Power Point slides. This was adequate, but far from exciting for me and the students. I changed this lesson up in 2015 and I’m so glad that I did.

The post that sparked my change was written by Kevin Roughton (@MrRoughton ) I read his post on “Having a Great First Day” In Kevin’s post he explained how he brought in personal artifacts and he had his students examine them. They would then make inferences about what those artifacts could tell them about who he was. I loved this idea and I quickly got to work ransacking my house and my parents house for artifacts to bring in. 

When my collection was done, some of the items I had assembled were old report cards (I had some horrible math grades that always get noticed by students), band ribbons, baseball throphies, casette tapes (They may be Bel Biv Devoe & MC Hammmer), hand cuff keys and my old police ID card (I was a police officer for 5 years), my Scott Peterson Hot Dog factory ID card, vacation photos, my old Cladaggh ring, and some of my family photos. I had gathered all these items, yet how was I going to start the activity?

That summer I had read the amazing book Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess. In the book Dave talks about the “Mystery Bag Hook.”  Dave details how in class or during a presentation he would put the bag or box front in center in the room. He would build up his audience’s curiosity as to what’s in the bag or box. He would stoke that interest until the big unveil.

I decided this would be my hook. I had recently attended a kid’s birthday party with my two kids in which they had a reptile petting zoo. This got my brain going. I decided to put my personal artifacts into a bag and then I put the bag in a box labeled “Don’t Touch…Very Dangerous.” The photo above is the one my school’s principal took of me last year doing this lesson.

I started class by introducing myself and stating, “I’m so glad to be here, with the opportunity to teach them about world geography, yet, it meant I had to leave my summer job working at a reptile rodeo behind.” I go on to say, I couldn’t make a clean break because I loved the snakes I worked with too much, so I brought one in. I then asked for a brave volunteer to come to the front of the class to reach into the box. At this point the kids were on the edge of their seats and 30 hands were waving in the air to volunteer. I played up the tension repeatedly asking the student volunteer if they were sure they wanted to do this. I might add in a legal waiver or dramatic music this year.

When the contents of the bag were revealed they started laughing, yet they were also very interested too. They started asking questions about the artifacts. I advised I wasn’t going to supply them with the answers yet. I had told my colleague and friend, Chris Heffernan (@cheffernan75), about the lesson and he advised this would be a great way to introduce primary and secondary sources.

With Chris’s advice I distributed 3-4 artifacts to each quad of four students. They looked over the artifacts and with there quad they wrote a paragraph explaining what they thought the artifacts said about me. They each presented their paragraph with their secondary analysis of these artifacts to the class. When each group was done. They interviewed me as a class. I answered their questions and explained how the artifacts helped to tell the story of who I was, yet they were far from a complete picture of my life.

The students then had homework that I assigned due 2 days later. They had to gather 5 artifacts that showed who they were. They also had to write a paragraph explaining how those artifacts showed who they were as a person. They brought them to class and exchanged their bag  with a partner. The partner would look through the artifacts, and write their analysis of the artifacts making inferences as to what they could tell about the person. They then shared their paragraph with the bags owner. Sometimes the person nailed their analysis other times when the bag’s owner shared their paragraph they quickly found their analysis was way off.

This lesson accomplished several different things. It got students to realize you can learn a lot from pictures and objects. It also showed that just like in the study of history it is best to use both a combination of both primary and secondary sources to get the most complete picture of a person or an event. Beyond that it got students working together and getting to know one another day one. Most importantly, it peaked students interest and got them excited on the first day. Now the hard part… keeping that excitement level and curiosity high for the next 179 lessons. It’s a challenge but one I look forward to starting again on August 17th!

What is your first day like? What do you do to get students excited to learn again?

What could I do to make this lesson better?

P.S. Sincerest thanks to Kevin Roughton and Dave Burgess for inspiring this lesson!


10 thoughts on “What’s In The Box? Kicking Off The New School Year

  1. Love this! I do something a little like this, but not on the first day. I give groups one artifact to analyze and discuss the difficulty of doing so without context. I will have to go digging for more! And have them join in.


  2. Thanks Ed this is great. I will be heading back to the classroom and I have started getting ready. I definitely think I will be taking more then a few of your ideas


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