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 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):