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  • Farica Erwin

First Day of School

Updated: Jan 26

My school always starts on a Friday with a half-day. I like it because teachers have been there all week, and it is a quick way to meet everyone. Unfortunately, it makes each class about 18 minutes long. Usually, teachers are handing out their syllabus and materials list, so students can get them completed over the weekend.


I do not have a syllabus (I have a digital interactive slide-deck posted on my webpage) and I do not require any materials more than a graph paper spiral notebook and writing instrument. We are a 1-to-1 iPad school, but they are issued those, so no extra materials to buy.


Instead, on the first day, I like to give my students a group challenge. It changes each year as I teach some of the same students each year. This year, I chose the Impossible Paper Puzzle to get them thinking. I taped them to the walls, so each group had their own to look at, without being able to manipulate it.


The Rules of the Activity:

Each person gets ONE piece of paper to re-create the puzzle.

Each group gets ONE pair of scissors.

Talk to your group and plan wisely.

You may get as close to the Paper Puzzle as possible, but NO TOUCHING.

You get 8 minutes to work.



I usually have about one or two students who figure it out during this period. I immediately make them crumple the answer into a paper ball and recycle it. They are not allowed to share the answer.


During the activity, I hear many things:

"This must be trick. It's impossible!" - Really? You are literally looking at a completed puzzle!

"Are you going to give us the answer?" - Ummm, no, never ... to any problem.

"I don't want to waste/mess up my paper." - Arg! Take a risk, try something!


But I also hear:

"As a group, we have 4 papers, so 4 chances. Let's try your idea and see what it looks like."

"I WILL figure this out!"

"We know it has to fold it the middle."

"Can I have more paper?"


Before they leave class, I make them hide all evidence of attempts. Crumple and recycle. Finally, I explain the main rule of class - No Spoilers!

This means not discussing the activity for the day before others have attempted it AND not ruining it by sharing answers. This rule works for every assignment, project, test, activity, or class discussions. Then they are dismissed to think about this puzzle all weekend long. And they will. Even though it was not an "assignment."


These bits that I overhear start my discussion on Monday. We talk about risk-taking, perseverance, group discussion, problem solving, and what we learn from mistakes. It is great start to class and setting the tone to how the class will run.


I also NEVER share the answer. Those who solved it are now free to show only those who ask. Some students will continue to work on it all week.

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