# First Day Activity

I really enjoyed today’s “First Day” activity in Precalculus. I found the idea on Becky Lyon’s blog; you can also find her on Twitter: @rhlyon.

I had the students find someone to work with and told them one member of the pair would be the Explainer and the other would be the Grapher. The Explainer was supposed to sit facing the projector screen, while the Grapher was supposed to sit facing the door (i.e., away from the projector where they could not see it at all).

The idea of the activity is this:

1. Display a picture or graph on the projector screen for about one minute.
2. The Explainer has to describe the graph only using words — no hand gestures allowed!
3. The Grapher tries to re-create the picture or graph from the description.

The pictures I used started out easy (a giant smiley face) and got progressively more difficult. To give you an idea, I uploaded the exact graphs I used to my public Dropbox space: It’s http://dl.dropbox.com/u/59433434/111-Day1.pdf. After we were done, we went through the graphs together and talked about what descriptions had been given and what people could have said to make it easier.

This gave us a great opportunity to review vocabulary like “degree” and “vertex” and “parabola” and “quadratic” and “intercept” and “slope” and “local maximum [versus global maximum]”. It also gave me feedback as to what the “groupthink” occurred and at what level my students are starting. (For instance, some of them volunteered the idea that an even-degree root of a polynomial behaves differently on a graph than an odd-degree root!)

They seemed to enjoy the activity. It helped cement for them that I will expect them to do things in class, not just be. And, happily, it gave them the opportunity to practice my Friendship Policy.

My three favorite comments from today include:

• This will be the most FUN class!” –a student said to her friend, at the end of class
• An e-mail I received after class said, “What a great first day of class! Super exciting and thank you for your approach!
• A fantastic Tweet (admittedly from a calculus, not precalculus, student):

# Friendship Policy

I have my first course meetings this morning. Right now I’m enjoying a one-hour break between classes in what will become my Office Hours once students figure out what Office Hours are for. I thought I’d take the time to write about an important topic I covered during today’s PreCalculus class.

# A Very Important Course Policy:

One of the notable policies I have on my syllabus is called my Friendship Policy: Students in my courses are required to make two friends from class. For those of you who, like me, haven’t been a college student in a number of years, this policy may seem very silly and totally unnecessary! However, the policy has an important function at fixing a “problem” I noticed a few semesters ago.

Before class, I would find students sitting on benches in the hallway for several minutes waiting for the previous class to end. There would be, say, ten or twelve students all from the same course, standing in the same hallway, and it was library silent. No person was talking to any other person! Instead, every single one of them was texting someone on their phone, checking Facebook on their iPad, playing a game on their laptop, etc. Eventually they would all enter the same classroom and continue their technologically dependent anti-social activities.

When I pointed this out to my students, they had never noticed this phenomenon and they didn’t understand why I thought it was weird!

# “Back in my day,” says the professor…

There were no cell phones. In order to fill the awkward silence, students in my classes would talk to each other, real-time, face-to-face. Sure, we would talk about course-related things like homework or exam studying, but we would also talk about social activities or sporting events or movies or whatever. This is how we made new friends.

I realize that students in my class have lots of friends. (Otherwise, who would they be constantly texting?) But I still have not figured out how they make new friends. Hence the birth of my Friendship Policy:

Friendship Policy:

You are required to make friends with students in this class. If you are absent from class, your friends will be very happy to lend you their notes to copy! In fact, I think cooperative learning is so important I am going to leave blank space on this syllabus for you to write down the names of two of your class friends and their contact information.

After explaining all this to the students, they usually look at me with confused faces until I say something along the lines of, “Friendship Time: Commence!” and then stare at my wristwatch expectantly. Within seconds, the room explodes in conversation. Occasionally, I have to nudge some of the shy students in the right direction.

# Results and Analysis

After several classes over several semesters, this policy seems to make a big difference. First, no one sits before class in techno-quiet. They talk to each other, get to know each other, and occasionally I have caught them teaching each other how to do math problems. Second, I no longer get e-mails asking, “What did you cover in class yesterday?” Third, I learn a lot from my students by participating in before class conversations. For example, in this morning’s class, one student is here on a golf scholarship from Sweden! (How awesome is that!)

I still have two more classes this morning. We’ll see how those groups take to forced friendship-making time.