Maximize the first day of class

Classes at UCI have become larger, and teaching tools have become more complex. It can be easy to be concerned about the many administrative details your students need to understand in order to do well in your class. But the first day of class only comes once, and this is the moment when students are very interested in what you and your class will be like. Instead of just reading through the syllabus or showing multiple slides with deadlines and clicker registration requirements, take some time to focus on your discipline and your learning goals for the course. Below are some ways UCI faculty maximize their first day of class.

Some faculty get students intrigued about the content of the course.

Dr. Julie Ferguson teaches a large general education course in Earth System Science, and likes to have a clicker “quiz” to both demonstrate clicker use and point out some common misconceptions about the course content. For example, she uses this question:
   The main reason that sea level has risen over the past 100 years is:
     a) melting of glaciers and ice sheets
     b) warming of ocean water
     c) more rainfall on land
She comments, “It’s usually stuff students think they know and so are surprised to see they are wrong.” This piques their interest in the content.

Dr. Sharon Block teaches a course in colonial history. “I ask my students to go to the board and draw a picture of a person in colonial America (40a), or to draw something that signifies colonial America (142D). They usually draw things that aren’t at all colonial for the latter, or, for the former, they draw mostly men, a few stereotyped Indians, and no Africans.” She uses these drawings to get students moving out of their seats and to start a conversation about mythmaking and preconceptions of history.

Dr. David Kirkby teaches quantum physics. “I started my quantum class with an interactive web app that students ran in groups using the multiple screens in SE 101 (the active learning classroom). The app is designed to raise key questions for the quarter through hands-on experimentation, with minimal instructions and no pre-lecture required.”

Dr. Anita Casavantes-Bradford also discusses misconceptions in her history course. “For my History of Immigration class, I start the first day with a short ‘true or false’ quiz, with five questions on some of the things that many Americans believe to be true about immigration (ie, Immigrants take jobs or lower wages for American workers; undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes, etc). And then we have a discussion and I present a few slides with the answers. The quiz shakes up what they think they know about the topic and sets the stage for the class.”

Other faculty focus on classroom interaction.

Dr. Angela Jenks teaches anthropology, and uses an activity that serves as both icebreaker and as an introduction to the epistomology and ethnography associated with her discipline. On their own, students write down ten things they believe to be true. Then in class they interview each other, and then volunteer sample “beliefs” to be written on the board. The resulting variety of statements allows for a rich discussion of cultural anthropology, and is often referenced throughout the quarter (Dr. Jenks has written up the activity in this journal article).

Cathy Vimuttinan teaches academic english, often to newly-arrived international students. She turns the syllabus presentation into a group project by assigning small groups to a Google Slides presentation, with each slide needing to be filled in (what three assignments are due each week, find a picture that represents ___ ). “I use the slides as part of my course overview and call on students to present their information from their seats.” This gives students practice speaking to each other and to the class as a whole, which will be critical for their success at the university.

Some faculty focus on important study skills.

Dr. Robin Bush teaches the second quarter of introductory biology for majors. “I use data from the Association of American Medical Colleges website to show what a deal-breaker a low MCAT test score can be, along with a couple of Bio 93-like sample questions from a MCAT study guide. I then give them a short clicker quiz using questions from their Bio 93 final exams (which they had taken about 3 weeks previously). …They don’t remember very much. I let that sink in a bit. We then go over the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve. They need to know that it is not only normal, but almost inevitable, that you will forget material if you do not review it…I end by telling them that because we forget, we will be purposefully and constantly reviewing material during Bio 94; in lecture, in MasteringBiology assignments and on quizzes and exams.”



There are many different options to maximize your first day. Continue looking for ideas below: