One of the many weird things about me is that I remember commercials from long ago. I can still sing the “You deserve a break today” jingle from McDonalds. I remember the taglines and commercials for 1980s local car dealers. It’s an odd talent that doesn’t really benefit anyone, but it’s mine.

One of the ad campaigns of my youth was, “Head and Shoulders – because you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” I thought about it a lot as a kid (which is really weird). I remember trying to find a way to disprove the statement, but I never could. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Which is why Day 1 in your classroom is so important. You won’t have another chance to introduce yourself, your content, you classmates. You won’t have another night where EVERY parent of your students will ask, “so, how was your day?” This is when your students and their families are at their most receptive, and you need to nail the first impression.

For as long as I remember, Day 1 involved a lot of sitting and listening. Here are class rules. Here are the topics we cover. Here are the papers you need to get signed. But Jen Garner told me that students can read a syllabus on their own time, and teachers can have them take a quiz on it. And she’s right.

Last week Jen’s post Rethinking the First Day and Ed’s post What’s in the box? Kicking off the new school year? talked about what they are doing to start the year. And so here is what I’m doing.

First of all, this was a collaborative effort between Sam Mandeville and me. What started at Jen’s session on Centers at #GeoEdu17 continued at dinners and via text messages over the past few weeks. It’s the amazing part of a PLN – collaborating with someone to make both of us better, but that is the subject for another blog post.

Over the first two days, I have 6, ten minute centers that I’m planning to do. Each day I’ll start with a Question of the Day and some other activity to start the class off. On Day 1 it will be a quick introduction to make sure that everyone is in the right place (the number of lost 7th graders on Day 1 is pretty remarkable) and then an introduction to the Centers. Day 2 will be a 4 corners activity with questions like:

  • What super power would you want? (invisibility, super strength, super speed, flight)
  • Favorite pizza topping? (just cheese, sausage, pepperoni, something more exotic)
  • Where have you lived? (born & raised in this community, always in Illinois, another state, another country)
  • Where is your ultimate vacation? (a major city, amusement park, the beach, the mountains)
  • What app can’t you live without? (Instagram, YouTube, Netflix, what’s an app?)

The rest of the time students will rotate through stations. So here is a quick run through of the six stations I’m doing. I’m willing to share more with anyone who wants more details, just reach out to me in the comments or Twitter.

Center 1 – Play Doh

Last week I refenced worldgeochat friend Quinn Rollins (@jedikermit) and his post from last year about using Play Doh. So I came up with 6 questions (2 about summer, 2 about geography, and 2 about their attitudes on school) for students to answer by building something with Play Doh and then discussing with their peers. They’ll only get through 2 questions (3 if they rush) but the conversation with each other will hopefully build some new relationships.

Center 2 – Explore a line of latitude

Sam found a version of this on NatGeo Education. Students will pick a line of latitude (you might have to explain what those are if your students have no geographic knowledge) and follow it around the world. What countries does it go through? Oceans? Natural features? What would life be like there? It’s another way to get students to have a conversation, and introduce geography to them.

Center 3 – Who am I, who are you?

I made a 90 second video introducing myself to my students. Handheld, iPhone, poor, poor quality. But they know who I am and why I do what I do.

I made a Google Form based on Pernille Ripp’s student questionnaire. With the remainder of the time, I’m getting as much information about my students as I can. It means I have a lot of homework to do on Day 1, but it is the best homework to do.

Center 4 – MyMap your location

I made a quick instruction sheet for MyMaps to put in the folder for this station. Each student will plot on a class MyMap their “happy place.” It could be a vacation spot, family member’s house, wherever.

They’ll plot their favorite location with their name and a sentence or two about why that is their happy place.

With the remaining time, they can look at each other’s locations and hopefully make some connections to their classmates.

Center 5 – See, Think, Wonder – Classrooms Around the World

I’m using Schools Around the World from The Guardian. There are 25 pictures of classes around the world, I chose 8 to print off and put in the folder.

Using the See, Think, Wonder visual literacy strategy, students are going to look at each picture. Each group member will talk about something they see that jumps out at him/her. Then they’ll each make an “I think” statement drawing an inference about things in the classroom. They’ll end with a wonder statement asking a question about what they see in the classroom. I’m hoping they are so engaged as to only get through two pictures, but there are 8 in the folder in case they move too quickly.

Center 6 – Take Action

I’ve become a zealot when comes to taking action. A lot of my blog posts have been about the power of taking action. It starts on day one this year.

We’re going to go through the process of taking action on a mini scale. To start off, they are going to brainstorm any school problems they can think of based on their experience as a 6th grader. They’ll then pick a problem, determine who could help with solving it, and make a list of possible solutions. Little do they know – down the road this year I’m going to push them to fix that problem.


So, that’s Days 1 and 2. I’m excited to try something new. What do you see that could make it better? Comment or let me know on Twitter, and don’t forget to join #worldgeochat when it comes back August 29!


3 thoughts on “Centers to start the year

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