The first day of class is a special time for not only students, but for recent newcomers like myself. I refrain from coming on to my students like an out-of-control avalanche, preferring instead to share insight on this person they're "stuck with" for the next several months. I want them to understand that I was once like them, albeit many years ago. Within Prezi I offer up some pictures of my parents first-date, a family photo when I was about 8 years old (missing my front teeth), my Junior Prom pic (along with my special date), a graduation mug shot, my first car (a '68 Chevy Malibu), our wedding picture, Jacob's baby picture with a series of photos which detail his growth to 6'7", a father/son graduation pose, Ashley & Jacob's wedding day, and their most-recent addition of MacKenzie Ryann. I share my reasons for being involved with Relay for Life, offer up some pictures of my favorite teachers, friends, and others who have impacted my life, and wrap it up with a rendition of "Watch your words, thoughts, actions..."
We discuss expectations for one another and how their attitudes will impact their progress not only in my classroom, but throughout life itself. I share what we will be learning in the different units of study, why we start where we do, and where we will end up at the end of the semester. I distribute the letters from last year's classes...each one special for the way it forewarns the pitfalls of not completing your work on time as well as introducing "Mr. D" as a great teacher. (I don't know whether or not I've attained 'greatness' yet, but I'm working on it) I'll ask them to read 1-2 letters and then pair-share with their table partner, then discuss with the adjacent table, and then open it up to the class for a general summary- which I'll bullet-list on the SmartBoard. I remind them that the class is not always easy, and my job is to challenge them with information and concepts which can be applied to the real world. History has a way of do that to all of us!
Each year I attempt a new "hook" which grabs student attention and provides the focus where we're headed in the months to come. So many of today's students are visual learners in much of what they learn. By tapping into the rhythm and message of music, I can show my students how studying history allows us to take a step back in reflection of the lessons that are offered to those who become all the more aware of it. While I back away from following too much of today's teen music, there was a song offered up by One Direction, a British boy band, late last year called "Story of My Life." If you're not aware of it, there is a link on the title to YouTube where it has now been seen by (only) 265+ million views. The tune is catchy but it also offers up a vision of how our lives more forward with changes in friends, family, values, and so much more. While teens are most likely aware of the words, I doubt they've ever considered the "historical" twist within the video.
This "hook" will get their attention, but the "line" which pulls them in is the accompanying video created by "The Piano Guys," a group which none will be familiar with. It has NO WORDS....but the video tells a story just as special and unique as it's predecessor. Released six months following the original, it requires students to follow the life of a little boy to that of an old man reminiscing about life in his drawings. Shown alone, either would tug at one's emotions. Shown back-to-back with some helpful insight will provide the total "sinker" which will set the stage for many opportunities to see history from an entirely new perspective.
When students leave my classroom on their first day, their initial assignment is to find one or more pictures of special people in their lives...either in the past or present. Together we will create a picture wall much like the one seen in the original One Direction video. And throughout the next five months we will explore the many lessons found within U.S History. We are a people moving forward with past filled with various traditions, cultures, and heritage. We explore our entwined roots and look at ways which provide strength for today's generation of learners. This will be my best "Opening Day" yet!