The First Week

Matt Hetrick's picture

Now that schools are back in session (weather permitting of course) I'm curious for ideas about what to do in that dreaded first week. I usually spend the first class going over the syllabus and class expectations. This usually ends being a somewhat wasted exercise since I have to answer questions throughout the semester while restraining myself from yelling "Read the Syllabus!" I then spend the remainder of the week discussing the the introductions to the main texts for the course. This has the benefit of clarifying some of the main themes and topics without delving into the actual content until week 2.

What I am grappling with is the infamous add/drop period. I don't want to cover too much material since some of them won't be back and new people will be in their place, but I don't want to waste the time of those students who are there either. Does anyone have suggestions for what you do in the first week of classes?

Depending on how many students you are dealing with, here's something that I do.  Divide them into groups and give each the same digital packet of 5-7 images, letters, broadsides, or other ephemera from the period and ask each group to try to build a character list and devise three historical questions from the material.  The questions have to touch on some issue or problem (as opposed to, say, a "data" question that can be answered quickly in a reference work).  I've found that students are more strongly motivated by issues and questions.  Give them time to work through this and either at that session or the next one, put the questions up on a screen or blackboard for students to compare and contrast.  I suspect that many will realize that the evidence doesn't speak for itself and the best questions stem from basic knowledge and context that would be supplied by lecture, readings, and further study.  In the discussion, you can ask them what information they'd need to have to answer those questions.  This can then hook them up to the reasons why they're dealing with those texts.

Peter Knupfer, Michigan State