I trust you have a few weeks left in your Summer Vacation, but if you are anything like I used to be, I imagine you have already begin thinking about that first week of school.

They say there is “no second chance to make a first impression,” and first weeks of school are so important in setting the tone for the entire year. They are an opportunity to establish relationships, build routines, ground learning, and lay the foundation for our learner-centered environment.

I wonder how you might go about establishing that foundation?


You could take route #1 pictured above and do this from the front of the classroom; or you could take route #2, and lay the foundation from the side, through a hands-on project.

Here are five ideas:

  • Design Challenge BootCamp:  Lead students through a number of mini- challenges (spaghetti tower build, bridge build, egg drop challenge, etc.). Use the challenges to co-develop a rubric for collaboration.
  • Class Contract/Constitution: Work with the class to devise a classroom constitution. Divide them into two houses/teams, and have them go through the same process democracies go through in transforming a bill into a law. Teams can ratify, amend and send bills back to each house, and you as president can have final say. Once laws are in final form, have an artistic student develop the final version.
  • Classroom Re-Design: Have students work in small teams of four to propose and build the prototype for a classroom re-design. Designs must include layout, benefits, features, and budget. Winning teams can try out their designs for the next week.
  • Vision Boards: Have students write personal academic, social and emotional goals and then create a vision board of what they look like fulfilled. Bring in old magazines, prints, and publications for students to cut up and paste to their vision board. Allow them to share with the class.
  • School/Community Map: Get students outside of the classroom and help them get to know their school/ community through their own maps. Divide students into teams according to different map categories. One team could map potential business/class partners; one might create a map of nearby green spaces; one, community non-profits. The choice is yours. You can build digital maps using ‘Google MyMaps.’

Of greater importance than the project you engage students in, is the foundation and culture you will establish around learning. Learning will be a collectively owned, learner-centered process.

Any other mini-project ideas?

I would love to hear them in a comment and add them to the post!

Enjoy the first week of August!