So the 1st day of school in high school science is approaching and you don’t know what exactly to do with your students. There is so much procedural/background content you want to cover, but you also want the day to be FUN and engaging so your students know what to expect for the year. So what do you do??
If you teach high school science, fear not! I am here for you! I am going to share the four things I think EVERY teacher should do on the 1st day of school in high school science – regardless of what subject you teach. I will also give specific examples of how I do each of these four things in my biology, physical science, and anatomy classes.
1. Set the tone.
It is SO important from day 1 that you start setting the tone for how your class will be run. First impressions DO MATTER, so you want to start off the year with the vibe you plan to maintain so that your students know what to expect. If you aren’t the strictest teacher in the world, you don’t have to be day 1! If you aren’t the flashiest teacher in the world, don’t try to be someone you aren’t!
Consider who you are and what you care most about. THIS is the tone you want to set from the 1st day of school onward. I think a HUGE part of that is creating a classroom environment that students feel is both and safe and fun to learn in. This begins with students seeing you as the authority and in control. I think it is incredibly important to have procedures that you train students in from day one so that they know how your class will run. The more clearly you can teach procedures and consistently reinforce them, the more you can eliminate disruptions during class that can lead to classroom management issues.
Do I sit and go through a handout of every little procedure? Not day one. But I do point out a few key things (where they can find supplies they can use without asking, where the agenda/due dates are, what my bathroom policy is) just to introduce them, knowing the first few weeks will involve a LOT of reinforcement to get to the place where they become second-nature for students.
My most important procedure every day is Prime Times – which are bell ringers I do the first five minutes of every class period. I do a Prime Time on day one in every class so they can start getting into the rhythm of how our class will run and the expectations during Prime Time = silence, working on your own, and demonstrating how I will collect them every day after five minutes. You can read more about why I am so passionate about Prime Times here!
What do I ask them on the first day? Two options:
- FUN questions just to start getting to know them (see must-do #2)
- I have them make observations about something (see must-do #3 and 4)
2. Begin getting to know your students.
I think one of the most important things to do on the 1st day of school in high school science is to begin getting to know your students. If there is ONE THING I have learned over the years it is that behavioral issues are dealt with on a relational level, so building relationships with students is HUGE (read four tips for how to do that here). I want them to know from their first moment in my classroom that I care about them as a person, and not just a student.
Here are a few ways I do that:
- I greet them at the door. This is something I do every day, so it also helps with must-do #1 of setting the tone!
- While they work on their Prime Time, I go around and ask every student what they like to go by name-wise and how to pronounce it. I have a little seating chart on a clipboard (seating charts help me IMMENSELY the first few weeks to learn their names!) where I write out their favorite name to go by and how to pronounce it. Building relationships with students starts by knowing their name! P.S. I tell them where to sit as I greet them at the door. My seats are labeled by number and letter so they are easy to find.
- I have students complete a get-to-know you questionnaire. I LOVE having this information so I can start learning about my students. It doesn’t have to be fancy! Click here to download a VERY simple example I have used in the past!
3. Review your lab safety contract.
Okay, okay, I know this may seem super boring, but HEAR ME OUT!! I have found that lab days can be extremely stressful for many science teachers – mostly because your class sizes are much too big for the space you have, so safety becomes a stressor. I take lab safety very seriously and teach it over and over again with every lab that I do with students. However, I have found from a liability standpoint, it REALLY helps to have students (and their parents/guardians) sign a lab safety contract at the beginning of the year.
I hit the highlights for them on day 1, so that I feel comfortable that I’ve reviewed it enough that they can take it home and get it signed. I do not let students participate in a lab until I have this back. I do whatever it takes to track this down by the end of the first week. It is rare I don’t get it back. If I don’t, the student has to sit out the first lab and take notes – which they realize is DREADFULLY boring and they get it back to me ASAP after that.
If you can, make this a department-wide policy so students know that in any science class they take, this will be the expectation!! You can go over it in more detail as you do different labs and hit different points, but start by going over it early on!
My favorite free general science lab safety contract is by Flinn here. Carolina also has safety contracts that are subject-specific! You can find them here for the following subjects: physics/physical science, anatomy, earth/environmental, and chemistry.
My absolute FAVORITE way to introduce lab safety on day 1 is with Lab Safety Barbie (see pictured below). The summer before my first year teaching I got a life-size Barbie off eBay and semi-destroyed her. On the 1st day of school in high school science, I set up a “crime scene”, so to speak, around my demo table for when students walk in. I have them make observations on her injuries and tell me what she could have done to prevent them. This is a FUN and silly way to get students thinking about lab safety, and hit some highlights on your lab safety contract!
4. DO SCIENCE!
Last but most CERTAINLY not least, the most important thing to do on the 1st day of school in high school science, regardless of the subject you teach, is SOME sort of science!! We want them to know from day 1 that we will be learning science every single day in our classes. It doesn’t have to be a massive lab or something extensive. Keep it simple! Even a fun demo can do the trick.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to “do science” on the 1st day of school:
- Biology: I love this free characteristics of life activity. Students work with a partner to do a card sort and categorize the cards as “living” vs. “nonliving”. From there they come up with a list of characteristics that make something living or not. This turns into a great classroom discussion, and is a great way to start a course that is essentially about the “study of life”.
- Anatomy: You can totally do the characteristics of life activity as a review from biology, but my favorite activity is more anatomy-specific. Have huge life-sized pieces of butcher block paper (or whatever you can swipe from the art teacher) pre-cut. Put students in groups of 3-4 and have them trace one group member on the paper. Then put a list of 10-15 organs on the board you want them to draw on the paper. This allows you to see any prior knowledge they have on the body, and is ESPECIALLY funny to see the scale to which they draw things.
- If you would like, make a PowerPoint slide with clip art of each organ so they have a general idea of its shape. Hang these around the room and refer back to them the first few weeks as you do an overview of the body systems.
- Better yet – roll them up and save for the end of the year. Have them correct their drawings in a different color on the same paper. They will most likely die laughing seeing what they did from day 1!!
- You can also do this outside with sidewalk chalk which is very fun! You just won’t have it to reference later in the year.
- Physical Science: I love to do a demo in physical science that gets them really thinking, and excited for what is to come in the course. A few of my favorites:
- The drinking bird is a GREAT science toy that can promote inquiry-based thinking and that you can refer back to throughout the year.
- I also love doing the “death of a gummy bear” demo. This is a great way to somewhat introduce the importance of lab safety as well, and not eating in lab – ha!
- Last but not least, dropping stuff out your window is always a great crowd pleaser. Depending on how messy you want to get, have a few students help you drop various items of similar shapes out the window and predict which will hit the ground first. This is a great way to introduce acceleration due to gravity, and talk about air resistance as well!
- Nature of Science: I used this day 1 for AP Biology because I wanted to REALLY get my students thinking – but you could use it in any science course. I was first introduced to the “cube activity” at APSI by my instruction and I really love it inquiry activity so much! Google search “Inquiry Cube Activity” from Chapter 6 in “Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science“.
I hope you now feel equipped going into the 1st day of school in high school science! Have other things that have worked well for you? I’d love to hear! Feel free to reach out and tell me here.