An Overview of my First Week

Week One, Day One

Day one is a day for developing relationships, setting my nervous students at ease, and for introductions.

I don’t even talk about the syllabus until day two.  I don’t start by “laying down the law.”

I greet each student with a smile.  I try to repeat their names back so I can get to know them quicker.  I circulate around the room – I don’t hang around the desk – the symbol of my authority.

When all of the students have arrived I introduce myself and my PC.  As noted, I don’t offer what  we’ll do in the course, I offer what they’ll be when they’re done:

Intellectually curious critical thinkers who can form judgments about information, collaborate with their peers to co-create new knowledge, and make mindful decisions.  In short, I tell them that they’ll be better equipped to handle the knowledge economy – their economy – not the industrial age economy I grew up in (when dinosaurs roamed).

Than I turn things over to my PC, who conducts an ice-breaking activity.

By remanding the time back to them, I’m communicating from day one that I am not the center of gravity for the course.

My favorite activity has been to watch my PC draw a random line on the whiteboard.  She than introduces herself again, saying bit about what makes her nervous and what she’s most curious about.

She invites students to come up the board, one by one, to add to her line (to create a drawing together) and offer similar introductory comments.

When all 21 students have gone, we usually have quite a work of art on the board.  Sometimes they construct a piece of abstract modern art, sometimes a recognizable drawing (like a landscape).

But the central message (and we do share it at the end) is that we may start the process, but they’ll finish it..and we won’t know how’ll it’ll wind up until they’re done.

Week One, Day Two

This is another opportunity for me to stress how central the students are to FYS…and I do so by asking them to construct a social contract based on my “syllabus.”

This contract should include how they’ll conduct themselves vis a vis class values (as manifested by attendance, debate, electronic devices), how we should assess class presence, writing, and speaking (percentages and nascent rubrics) and how we’ll resolve conflict.

They’ll usually look to me to organize this effort, but with my PC’s help, I’ll facilitate their decision making…suggesting tactics that work (such as small groups making proposals to the entire class after a short period of deliberation).

I do usually add that we can amend this social contract as the class progresses, so as their understanding and perspective change they aren’t locked into a document from week one.

It’s interesting to note that in some cases they create documents that they think will satisfy me, and in others they act in a self-serving manner.  As they progress in the course and become more empowered (and proud of their work, they invariably seek to modify these standards to account for their new found maturity.

I request my first writing assignment on day two:  I ask them to write – to predict – what they think “inquiry” is and what it’ll mean toward the course objectives.

It’s informal, and meant to get them primed for the next day’s conversation.

Week One, Day Three

Building upon their informal writing, I ask students to break into groups and collaborate on one narrative.  When they’re done – about ten minutes – I ask them to come to the white board and draw their views of Inquiry.   (I find making them put their narrative into a drawing makes them think a bit differently about it…it’s a new perspective that helps them refine their narrative).

When each of the groups have a drawing, I ask them to resolve the differences.

I provide feedback as needed, and offer encouragement about them taking risks and offering ideas beyond what they think I want to hear.

We’re predicting.  We’re using our understanding of this commonplace term to infer new understanding.  It need not be “right” as long as it gets the students invested.

The informal writing for the weekend – for week two when I introduce the FYS inquiry model – is to write a paragraph discussing how their view might have changed from when they first wrote.

What are you doing?  Share your plan in the comments!



  1. Thank you for sharing ideas. It helps to know what others do to begin the FYS journey. I typically do some of the same things.

    I also ask the class to develop a social contract that includes several categories, among them-
    – classroom environment -(behaviors when speaking and sharing information, use of technology, conflict/resolution)
    – calendar- taking what we need to do, looking at tentative assignment schedule and making revisions if needed)

    And other categories chosen by the class.

    The first week and even week #2 set the tone for the rest of the semester.


  2. Thomas, thanks for sharing your plans for the first week of the freshman seminar with all of us. You have some very nice ideas about how to get the students engaged with the course and to feel comfortable with you and each other. My only suggestion is that I think we need to introduce more academic rigor from the very outset including things like having students read some text and respond to that text during the first week of the semester. That kind of challenge also “sets the tone” and clarifies expectations for what is to come during the rest of the semester.


  3. I like to start the semester with an overview of what the students should expect over the 14 weeks. Introductions, Ice-breakers, questions (on the board), and then my PC takes the last 5-10 minutes for more questions. Wednesday, the students form groups to work on the “class contract” includin a grading rubric, use of electronics, and more. Then they write.


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