Saturday, August 20, 2016

First Day? CHECK!

Week One of the 2016-2017 School Year: CHECK!  If you can even call it that - starting on Thursday (6th graders) and Friday (7th/8th graders) means that it was a very short week!  What I do want to give an update on, however, is how my first day introduction & Breakout game went!

8th graders working together to solve the clues!

As I was planning for the first day, I thought a lot about what I wanted to accomplish with my students.  Here is what I came up with:

  • Make it fun, exciting, and enjoyable, so they would leave looking forward to coming back the next day!
  • Pass out all necessary paperwork, so they could take it home and get it signed by parents.
  • Introduce the theme of my gamified classroom this year: Ms. Yeh's Jedi Strings Academy!
Based on those goals, I made an introduction video, which led the students to a Breakout game, which led to the papers that were locked in the box.

I dressed up as Princess Leia for the day, and welcomed students as they entered.  I very quickly launched into the Star Wars video for students to view.  It was so fun to watch their faces as they watched the video!  Comments I heard included:
  • "This is the best thing ever!"
  • "Wow, this is so cool!"
  • [Lots of laughter] "This is great!"
It was clear that the students enjoyed this unique presentation of some of the basic beginning-of-year information.  After that, I explained that there was a box that they needed to get open by the end of class.  I passed out the clues (randomly tossing them to students around the classroom), and repeated the final charge from the video: Have fun, work together, and may the Force be with you!

Welcoming students to my room
(and, yes, my head hurt by the end of the day with those buns!)
After this, it was fun to see what the students did with this information.  It took them a few seconds to realize that I was not going to stand at the front of the classroom and tell them what to do, but then they started forming small groups, working on the different clues.  Eventually, they realized that each clue had a partner (with matching pictures of a lock on the top), and they were able to put them together to figure out the clues.

As time went on, they started going through the locks, and I made a big deal of holding each one up that they had opened and announcing how many they had solved, and how many they had to go.  The kids loved it when "their" lock got announced, and were proud of the contribution they had made to the group!  With only ten minutes left, however, they were stuck on two locks.  I ended up providing more hints than I originally wanted to - because I really needed them to get into the box to get that paperwork!  This was a part of the game design that I would rethink in the future, so the opportunity for failure was there.

With about three minutes left in 1st period, the students cracked the final code and got into the box!  They were excited that they had figured all of the clues out!  Unfortunately, the time meant that we didn't get to debrief much - I will have to do more of this on Monday.  I passed out the paperwork with a few instructions, and sent them on their way!

My next challenge was to quickly reset the box for 2nd period.  I quickly put all of the locks back on while I ran to the next room (I change rooms in the middle of my schedule), and set the rest up while my 2nd period students were watching the intro video.  Learning from my 1st period class, I did a couple of things differently for 2nd period:
  • I showed them the locks ahead of time, and helped them understand how to work them (such as having to click twice to clear the directional lock).
  • I told them, right off the bat, that they would have to work together - that each clue had a partner clue, and they would have to find each other to solve it.  This was me trying to speed it up a bit so I didn't end up holding their hand at the end and giving as many hints, and it did help a bit!
They worked more quickly and did a great job getting through most of the clues!  They were stumped by the same final clue as my 1st period class, though - the directional lock.  I didn't realize that left and right would be so easily mixed up by my 7th & 8th grade students!  But, most importantly, they had fun and felt accomplished as well - and I got through all of my goals for the first day, too!

What I learned:
  • Think carefully before setting up a scenario where you really need the students to succeed.  Without the risk of failure, it changes the way you coach the game.
  • My classes of 32 & 43 students were a little bit too big for this to work well.  I tried to help the situation by splitting up several clues, and it worked well in the beginning - but after most of the locks were solved, there was no way for all of the kids to be really involved in solving the final lock.  This is when they were a little bit less engaged - still interested in what was going on, but having some social time, too.
  • I'm so glad I printed out different sets of clues for each class (and color-coded them)!  This allowed kids to write on them as they cracked the code, and made setup much easier, because I didn't have to re-collect clues and make sure I had all of them!
  • The kids really appreciated doing something different on the first day and not just sitting in seats listening to expectations!  It also caught them off-guard, especially first thing in the morning (my 1st period kiddos).  Hopefully they will be more ready for this in the future!  But it was worth it.  The smiles on their faces, the laughter, and the way they launched right in showed me that all of the planning was totally worth it, and my worries were unfounded!
  • In each class, I had one very introverted student who struggled to participate.  Because it is less structured, they struggled to find a way to "push in" to the conversation, and sat on the outskirts.  I tried to give them a special hint that no one else in the class got, to see if they could use that as a way to get in, but neither of them had any inclination to enter the fray.  I will have to think about how to make sure they are engaged from the very beginning next time!
While some things went how I expected them to, and others didn't, it was a very successful first day overall!  It felt great to get students moving, collaborating, and problem solving on Day One.  Here's to a great year in Ms. Yeh's Jedi Strings Academy!


  1. What a fabulously creative way to introduce first days Aubrey. I feel it's the most important days to set the tone and engagement for the rest of the year. While the syllabus and the millions of consent forms are needed, that type of administrivia takes away from the learning environment and can be done in a different way. I'm going to share this out with our music teachers across the district and see where this goes. If nothing else it'll offer a conversation piece. I can also see this for librarians.

    1. Thank you! That was my goal - figure out a way to still get the information and forms out, but make it much more exciting and engaging for the kids! Let me know how it goes with the music teachers - I'm curious to see if they have any other great ideas to add!

  2. What a fantastic idea! Love your creativity...and really love reading about any way that teachers incorporate BreakoutEDU into their classrooms. My son is currently in High School but the thing about the first day he has hated since coming to middle school is how each teacher will drone through the syllabus and the rules. This is a fabulous way to shake things up and I bet the kids will remember your content better than with just a list!

  3. I sure hope so! I'm noticing that I'm not getting quite as many responses to my online form as I'd hoped, so I may have to remind students on Monday that they need to do that, too (we played a game...but the paperwork does still need to be signed). I wouldn't trade it, though - a great first-day experience far outweighs a couple of reminders about paperwork!

    1. Always tricky to balance competing needs. Thanks for sharing your creative efforts, Aubrey.

  4. Appreciate your passion and energy--and willingness to come in "role". Your students must love you. The part of your post that helped me the most is your thoughtful review and reflection of what worked and what you would change. BreakoutEDU is so versatile #sunchatbloggers

    1. Thanks, Gillian! Looking forward to reading your posts and learning together!

  5. You are just so amazing!!! What a great first day. I loved how you shared your journey. You took us with you during your classes and also added reflection and shared your thinking. I can not wait to follow along with and see where this year takes you!!!!!

    1. P.S. feel free to tag me on any twitter sharing you do for new posts! I'd love to follow along and see what else you are up to!!

    2. Thanks, Carrie! I totally appreciate that, especially coming from a gamification rockstar like you! Looking forward to spreading the Star Wars goodness this year!

  6. I love that you shared your trials and tribulations, along with your successes. It's important that we do that so others can learn from our failures! Thanks, too, for sharing how you remedied the issues. Enjoy the exciting journey that this year will FOR SURE bring!

  7. It's all a part of it - the things that went well and the things I would change (and there will always be some of both)! I am committed to blogging honestly through whatever the year brings - because don't we all learn better through honest reflection? That being said, I can't WAIT to see how my class unfolds this year!