A Good Smack in the Face

The first week of school always seems to smack me in the face… in a good way, if there is such a thing as a good smack in the face. Coming off of summer days where I don’t set my alarm and I get to create my own schedule from day to day, the sudden jump into the deep end is something for which I’m not really sure how to prepare. It’s shocking to the system but refreshing at the same time, and when I find my way back to the surface, I can breathe again.

I try to imagine those feelings from the perspective of a student because I honestly cannot remember that part of school from my younger days. I imagine it’s somewhat similar in terms of being smacked into a sudden change in schedule, routine, and expectation but with the added disadvantage of not knowing their teachers or schedules or locker combinations or all of the other details that make middle school so awkward and uncomfortable. I try to keep this in mind when deciding how to approach the first week’s activities.

Last year was a disaster. The first day is always used to cram as much information into the minds of the new 6th grade class to ensure they feel comfortable and knowledgeable transitioning into their new middle school lives. And I thought it would be brilliant to use the first week of school to walk really slowly through a mini-project to introduce the new group to the LAUNCH Cycle process. I will be the first to admit when something is a total flop in my classroom, and let me tell you … this one fit the bill. If I remember correctly, I think we may have even called it quits a few days into the whole thing. It just bombed. The 7th and 8th graders already knew the process, so they were itching for more, and it doesn’t matter how old you are – you can tell when you’re being asked to do something just to do it. So the 6th graders knew right away that mini project was pretty meaningless. I was so disappointed in myself for thinking I could launch a year of authentic, real-world learning experiences with something so inauthentic and irrelevant. They were totally on to me.

So I did some reevaluating. In thinking about the kind of first day I wanted our 6th graders to have, I had one goal. I wanted them all to leave school on the first day excited to return the next. I wanted families to have a response to the, “How was your first day?” question that included more than the obligatory, “Fine.”

There are certain things all new students are worried about that always need to be addressed: lockers, schedules, and building awareness. So we covered those things in the morning, but our afternoon was spent outside, conducting a fun design challenge. Who doesn’t like a good egg drop? We had only one survivor, but that led to some really fantastic conversations about the things we’ll need to be thinking about this year as we work on quarter projects, passion projects, and other design challenges.

I feel so much better after this first week than I did last year. I attribute most of this to our shift in thinking about the first few days we all spend together. Project-based learning is all about diving in and learning as you go. It only makes sense that we would tackle the first week of school in the same way. I have a very good feeling about this year…

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