How To Smart Start Back-to-School with EduProtocols
Posted by MAXCases Admin on Jul 15, 2021

New beginnings offer a time to start fresh, filled with optimism, energy and enthusiasm. Sounds like a good way to feel during the first weeks of back-to-school, right? Too often, however, the first few days of class become a tedious grind through rules, expectations and content-dense syllabi. No fun for anyone. And not the best way to lay a solid foundation for learning, says Jon Corippo, long-time educator and co-founder of the EduProtocols adaptive lesson frame system.

“At the beginning of the school year, there’s a sense of looking forward to new things,” said Corippo. “Teachers and students are excited to be back in school, but they’re not necessarily excited about the first few days, which have become focused on a fascination with the syllabus, going over rules, maybe introducing the teacher and their background, that sort of thing, then jumping into working on content.”

This, says Corippo, is not only far from engaging, it does nothing to create a cohesive classroom.

“Basically, when this is how we work as teachers, at the end of the term, the students are mostly still strangers and the focus has been on work, work, work. This is not an ideal way to motivate students to learn and it also creates an environment more open to bullying.”

Battling Bullying and Boredom

Even before Covid-19 plowed through and wrought even greater disparities and challenges, bullying and its detrimental impacts were on the rise and classroom engagement was waning. Corippo and his EduProtocols co-author Marlena Hebern combat this trend with EduProtocols techniques, first and foremost kicking off the school year with a “Smart Start” – a fully prepped and ready-to-use 4-day program available at no charge. The foundation for the concept was born when Corippo began teaching 6th grade.

“My biggest challenge wasn’t getting the kids to understand topics, but to actually DO the work,” said Corippo. “I would wonder, is it that they can’t do it, or won’t do it? I realized that the vast majority of those that struggle just don’t do the work.”

Along with this insight, Corippo recognized two additional “givens” in a typical classroom, both of which began on day one and continued throughout the term. First, the constant focus on pressuring students to work, work, work. Second, the classroom space immediately segmented into neighborhoods defined by student groups: jocks sat with jocks; goths sat with goths and so on – and communication beyond these groups was virtually nonexistent.

“This type of setting makes bullying more likely, and I wanted my classroom to be a safe space,” said Corippo. “After seeing the pattern over a couple years, I got scientific and thought through how I could make the first days of school more impactful and set the stage for motivating kids to do the work and to get to know those outside of their comfort zone.”

His resulting hypothesis: try to make those first few days like camp.

Building Culture Before Building Knowledge

At camp, students often start out uncomfortable and even scared. By the time it ends they’ve made new friends and accomplished new things (which one might call “work”). Why? Because they’re doing these things while having fun. And because camps focus first on building a camp culture – helping kids get to know one another and forming a cohesive environment in which the kids feel safe to participate.

This is what Smart Start is all about: setting aside the curriculum for a few days to build classroom culture. Smart Start focuses on teaching kids how to learn, before jumping into content. It combines culture-building activities with fun topics and introductory content to get students ready for the year – all while actively participating with their classmates.

“As teachers scaffold fun into the curriculum, students develop a sense of belonging,” says Corippo. “Instead of starting with ‘I’m going to tell you about me, and I’m going to pass out a syllabus that you need to comb through,’ it’s ‘let’s do these activities together that will get us excited about the class and working together.’”

If you’ve been to a camp, club meeting or corporate retreat, you have an idea of what this is like: icebreakers and mixers that may touch upon the topic but are mostly about fun ways to get everyone comfortable so they’re more likely to participate. This, in essence, is the EduProtocols Smart Start system, with one more important feature: it’s completely pre-packaged and completely free.

The Keys to a Smart Start

It’s clear when talking to Corippo that first and foremost, Smart Start is about getting students to participate with one another in an active, engaging way. It has no room for teacher lectures or lengthy course reviews. Nonetheless, everything the students do – no matter how fun – is fundamental to learning and evidence-based for results.

“For example, many of the activities call for students to compare and contrast, a skill that has been demonstrated by research to boost academic success,” said Corippo.

Built on the combined 60+ years of classroom application by Corippo and Marlena Hebern, Smart Start packages and delivers the top activities they’ve used, pre-planned for the first four days of the school year and fully flexible for customization.

“If teachers want to mix and match, or skip activities that aren’t applicable to them, it’s easy to do,” said Corippo.

Smart Start in Action

Imagine it’s the first day of school and you’re ready to Smart Start. If it’s your first time trying this new approach to back-to-school, you may be nervous. Your students definitely are, whether or not they’d admit it. Start by letting them know that these won’t be the typical first days of school, then jump right in. This year, Smart Start will be easier than ever to use, said Corippo. Just check out the EduProtocols Smart Start page for fully pre-packaged plans that will enable you to:

● Teach expectations while building classroom culture
● Set the tone of the classroom in a fun, engaging way
● Get students interacting with those outside their typical circle
● Get students effectively using their tech tools
● Teach/reinforce skills they’ll use all year, such as compare and contrast; researching data;
● Frayer and Venn diagrams; meeting deadlines; presenting; and working with others

Here are a few examples:

The Daily Frayer. Start by having students interview fellow classmates , fill in the (provided) F rayer chart, then present their findings. Next, use that to build community by having students with similar likes meet together. After that, the possibilities are endless: Frayer foods, cars, pets, etc.

Best or Worst. This is another great way to build classroom community and all it takes is a classroom of students and your imagination. Just ask students to stand, then call out a question, “Best or worst sport ever… soccer/tennis/golf…” Students then move into one of three groups, representing best, worst, or no opinion. Try it with movies, food, books, cars, pets, tv and more. Corippo said he particularly likes this one for its ability to show students from different social classes and cliques that they have things in common with those outside their usual circles.

The Worst Preso EVER! This EduProtocol is a fantastic way to teach or remind students how to create an effective presentation – by breaking all the rules and creating a truly horrible slide deck (and noting what rules are broken) then presenting it as a team. Loads of fun and learning wrapped up together in a format that can easily be tweaked for different age groups.

Thin Slides. Get students ready to present better by having them share ONE SLIDE that they only get 3 minutes to build. The trick? They only get one word (or phrase) and one picture. At the end of three minutes, each student shares a claim or an observation about their chosen slide subject. The subjects? Things like favorite musical artist, favorite movie, and so on. This is a super fun and super low-prep tool that will be useful all year. Imagine Thin Slides in content areas: Complimentary angles - go! The Reformation - go! Molarity - go! The water cycle - go!

Finally, when it comes to learning new tools, the Smart Start philosophy can be used to make this often-tedious task fun, engaging and interactive. Here are some Apple-based examples that can be easily extended to Chromebooks:

● Webcam/iMovie – Ask students to turn on their webcam and interview 4 classmates about their favorite superhero, then make an iMovie.
● Garage Band – Have groups of students connect their computers via Bluetooth and make songs; for example, give them 15 minutes to make a really bad/silly song w/ 3 classmates
● PowerPoint/Slides – Watch the “Death by PowerPoint” video then set kids loose to create the Worst Preso Ever.

While back-to-school can probably never compare to making s’mores and telling ghost stories around a campfire, Smart Start can bring the fun and interpersonal engagement of camp to your first few days of the year, for lasting impact throughout the school year. Want to learn more? Find the 2021 school year Smart Start schedule here.

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