Best First Day Ever

My first ten years teaching had decent “First Days” I’m sure. However, I will remember this particular one forever. It’s fine for teachers to do most of the talking on the first day. It’s expected. I saw plenty of it today. I did that for probably all of my first ten years and I’ve always had good relationships with students since I began teaching. My 11th first day raised the bar.

My students were given clues to solve, roaming around the room, that eventually led them to the Samsung virtual reality headset to play a neat game that made for a good team building activity. Details of the activity are outlined later for those interested. I can’t accurately describe my excitement while observing my students the first day, but the smiles, laughs, and thank you’s said it all. They asked if I was laughing at them and I responded with a resounding “No.” It was so interesting to see dynamics that would usually take me weeks to observe. I saw a deep level of engagement today that I rarely get to observe in my classroom. I saw students that were actively “doing,” rather than being told what to do. I saw students having fun…legitimate fun. Were there some students lacking some motivation? Of course. That seems unavoidable until next year, when I convince Samsung to send me 4-5 more headsets, creating competition within the class instead of just between them. I digress.

My students basically ran the activity today. Leaders emerged. Communication developed naturally, organically, out of necessity. Listening was so important and happened because they wanted to and needed to and they were listening to each other. They were actually doing science on the first day and most of them probably didn’t even realize it. Their engagement hopefully sets the table for the rest of the semester. It certainly raised the students’ expectations, I’m sure. I usually try to learn their names the first day during the ice breaker, but this activity was all about them and I know they appreciated it. I would recommend this type of ice breaker to every teacher.

Do you have an awesome first day/ice breaker activity? I would love to improve. Please leave a comment.

With a refurbished Gear VR headset for $50, my wallet damage for this activity was quite abnormal for me (about $80), but I would do it all over again in a second. It’s all reusable…an investment of sorts. Plus, some of my favorite teachers came by after school and played around with it and more are stopping by later this week. I can’t wait to discuss this activity with my students tomorrow. Teaching is as much fun as you want to make it. VR has earned its place in education for me.


Here’s a detailed explanation of the activity for fellow nerdonians. My comments are italicized:

Students were told that they were diffusing a bomb and competing against my other classes for the fastest time (only one group diffused it and it was my class of sophs and juniors, not the seniors).

Their first instruction was that their first instruction was taped to their table (I put it underneath their tables to get them up and going right away). Since teenagers scoff at the idea of having a QR scanner on their phone. I gave them my old phone to use. The student WiFi wasn’t happy today, so they could not download one as originally planned.  After that, I sat back and watched for a while.

Here was the QR code text verbatum (slightly edited after the first two classes):
“The ABCs to the lock by the sink can only be found at the hands of the three Yinks.”

I was surprised at the amount of students in 2016 who would rather ask out loud “what is a Yink?” than ask the Google (they had Chromebooks in their bags). There are 6-7 sinks in my room and a good hiding spot by a back one.

I put three small black and white pictures of a Dr. Seuss Yink scattered around the room. Near each Yink was a stack of about 10 random numbers (1-39 for lock combo possibilities) clipped together. Each number was a different color (including one pink number that was the only useful number…Yink…pink…get it?) One stack with the first number to the combination was inside one of four books that all started with A. One stack was on a bookshelf (B). One stack including the last number to the combination was taped onto the back of the classroom clock (C). I ended up coloring in the pink ink later on in the day to help them a bit.

It took students a little while to find all the Yinks and most of them figured out the combination by trying random combinations of pink numbers. I only heard a couple of students reference the ABC location of the numbers.

The combination to the lock was located on a box I built HHS Breakout Boxthe day before with wood and spray paint I had laying around, so the total cost was less than $8 (hardware). The box contained a UV/blacklight LED flashlight (much safer than a black light bulb) that cost me $10 at Walmart and another QR code that read: The light from this flashlight. The surfaces that hide the next clue. The best lighting of the room.

I was hoping they would infer the relationship between the black light and the black lab benches where the next code was located. It didn’t work out that way, but I let them go anyway. Most of the classes turned the lights off immediately. They struggled a bit here. I reminded them that clues would be very obviously clues as they saw with the Yinks and that everything had a purpose and nothing was random. 

After wandering around with one flashlight, they found the words I wrote in highlighter on the 4 inch black “backsplash” against the wall. Some of the groups were successful after finding only 1 or 2 of the four words: “Under the teacher laptop.” Once they arrived at my laptop and lifted it or move it aside, another highlighter message awaited them, “Getting warmer” with a down arrow. They opened the top drawer and found the Samsung Gear VR box with the headset inside. There was another QR code on the VR box that read: “Finding this required only one to think outside the box. Diffusing the bomb requires collaboration of many with what remains inside the box.”P1

This tripped them up a bit because after looking inside the VR box and not finding anything, they got a little confused. The remaining item inside the box referred to the lock box where a very small QR code still remained. Students were so excited about the VR headset that they got it going before realizing they had not finished the clue (finding the last QR code which told them: “Get everyone on ASAP”). I had to remind them about the clue and ask them if there was another box in the room. Surprisingly, they had forgotten about the huge lock box and even after I asked them, many still searched around my desk. Diffusing the bomb without instructions is impossible, although one group started trying before I told them to look at the clue again.

Once students found the last QR code, there were a few instruction manuals being viewed on devices and with more time, I am confident every class would have diffused the bomb from the software Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes ($10 from the Oculus Store).P7

Although one class asked to pull it up on the projector, I was a little surprised on how many students did not pull up the instruction manual until I realized they had no idea how useful it would have been and how zoned in they were. It was also hilarious to watch one class pass the headset around to each other while each student stopped to voice their admiration for the Samsung Gear VR experience while the bomb clock was ticking away.  I could add italicized comments forever.


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