Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Chopped - An activity for the first days of school

The first day of school offers up many opportunities for us to define what our student's experience will be like for the remainder of the school year. Many of us spend this wonderful day asking students what name they prefer we use, going over classroom rules and expectations, passing out green sheets and having students look at our carefully crafted syllabus. The adventurous among us might even create a classroom quest to get students familiarized with the layout and having students look for different items, creating a classroom constitution or perhaps playing a round of "Find someone who...". These are all cool, and I guess important, but your students are either "listening" to you drone on, or participating half-heartedly. This year, I invite you to forego these tried and true activities for something more exciting, a Chopped design challenge.

Before the first day of school, prepare identical "baskets" of 3-5 mystery materials. These can include empty water bottles, paper towel tubes, cereal boxes, baggies of pom poms or beads, trinkets from the dollar store, etc. The more the mystery materials "don't go together", the better. You will need one mystery basket for each group of 3-4 students.

On the first day, assign  groups of 3-4 students randomly (using a count-off method or whatever you prefer), and distribute the mystery baskets. Then, in your best Ted Allen voice state:
"Welcome to Chopped. Your challenge - create a useful product from the mystery items hidden in each basket before time runs out. Every one of your mystery items must be used in some way. Also available to you, our maker items. When the bell rings (we have 10 minute bells), you will place your item in the judging table and clean up your space. During our next session you will present your product. Our distinguished judges will critique your work on usefulness and creativity. If your product doesn't cut it, you will lose the privilege of ____ for the remainder of the week ."
The maker items are any materials you have in the classroom. This may include glue, different types of paper and tape, cardboard, foam, etc. The privilege lost can be something like getting to choose seats or listening to music.

The student work time on this first day gives you the perfect opportunity to walk around learning student's names, conduct brief interviews and observing the class' dynamics.

On the second day, I provide students with a rubric to evaluate the products, and have each team present their product. Presentations on the second day allow students to introduce themselves to the class, and set the tone for peer evaluations which they will use for the remainder of the year. They also give you an insight into the students' personalities helping you create teams for future assignments.

As a follow up, you can hold a class discussion (or individual written reflection) centered around questions such as:

  • What worked well/did not work in your group?
  • How were decisions made in your group?
  • How did you organize yourselves?
  • What did you learn about yourself/your team members/your classmates during this activity?
  • If we were to do this again, what would you do the same/differently? Why?

What do you think? Isn't this a much more fun and engaging start of the school year?

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