This is a page for activities and projects that people use on their first day of school. Thanks for sharing.


  • Graph Matching:

    • I often start off with position vs time graph matching. We use Vernier equipment. I've done this a few different ways:
      • Method 1:
        • Students match position vs time graphs only so they can get a feeling for the properties of the graph. We talk about what we can glean from the graph.
      • Method 2:
        • Students match velocity vs time graphs only. This is before they know anything about the position vs time graphs.
      • Method 3:
        • I haven't tried this yet. I don't know if it would be too much or not.
        • I am tempted to have some groups match position vs time graphs while other groups match velocity vs time graphs. Then have the groups present what they've got.
        • I would preface the conversation with a statement that this will be a challenge and you must be observant about what you are doing and about what your classmates present. It might be too much for a day 1 deal. I am concerned about making students feel stupid and on the lookout for 'trick questions' or the feeling that they will just always be wrong. Sometimes even a simple prediction can put the student on the defensive.
  • I've also started off with :

    • ...paper towers designed to be as tall as possible
    • ...notecard towers designed to hold a can of pop/juice/soup/peanut butter
    • acting out subtle good and bad group behaviors (w/out the word subtle, you need to hold to have the sensors beeper ready)
    • I might add having tables/group discussing rumors they've heard about: the teacher, the class, tests, homework, (nothing where i have to talk about or for someone else). I got this idea from the SCALE-UP materials of NCSU.
  • Posted by Paul Lulai

Physics of Road Runner: Day One activities (Dan Burns)

  • Physics of Road Runner, shows that they already know ALOT about physics. See my video clips and PowerPoint at:
  • Physics 500 Lab from Conceptual Physics Lab Manual, spice it up with tricycles, hop balls, skip-its, three leg race, sack race, anything you can think of to make it a fun first day.

I encourage everyone to do something engaging and fun on the first day. As a parent I see my own children come home from the first day of school with the life sucked out of them by teachers reading rules and policies all day. Don't do this! Stand out from the crowd. You can work in the rules and policies a little at a time in the next 2 weeks. If you are worried that the sky will fall, give a take-home quiz based on your course description handout.

Cube Activity:

  • A cube activity, which has students think about the differences between observations and inferences. Students analyze two different types of cubes: one with numbers and shading, and the other with colors, small numbers, and names. From their observations of the five visible sides, students must reason to an inference about what is on the bottom of the cube. Students are also allowed to spin the cube, but may not pick it up. The cube with the numbers is fairly easy for the students to guess what is on the bottom, but it takes some digging to get the reasoning out of them. The cube with the names is more difficult, and it takes the students a while to understand the way the small numbers and names are connected to infer what is on the bottom. This activity is also extended to talk about the nature of science and how scientists use their observations to make inferences about the world. The activity comes from an article in a journal published by the National Academy of Sciences, so for a deeper discussion about the activity see the article.
  • The link: Cube Activity.pdf
  • Posted by Nathan Belcher

Introduction to Physics -- First Day Activity

I find that most of my students have little to no exposure to Physics. They don't know what it is.

My first day activity is a survey of demonstrations (students rotate around the room to do them). I try to cover the different topics -- light, electricity, etc.... though there's less on motion, since we'll see it soon enough.
After 20-25 minutes, we discuss some of them, and then we talk about what the study of Physics involves (they come up with motion, forces, energy, etc.)
As the year progresses and we hit some of the topics or use some of the demonstrations, students remember the demos from Day 1 very well, and they mention that they enjoyed it.

My attached write up -- I have a blurb for each demo (instructions, questions) which I put with each demo. The first 2 pages are small font, for my notebook; the remaining pages (larger font) are what I print out and put with each demo (I laminate those).

I spread them out among different tables, and students move around the room trying them out. I don't explain any of them -- I just ask what they think is happening.

Of course, you can vary this according to the demonstrations that you have available. I add and delete some each year.

Posted by: Nancy Michaelsen

Laser Distance Challenge:

I give them a laser pointer and tell them to measure the length of the hallway outside the room. There are several ways to do this, some much more accurate than others. The best involve a mirror and ruler to set up a triangle/trig problem. We use this to discuss accuracy and comparing the different methods. Also, how to make the most accurate measurements (small angles are very difficult to measure and make a very large difference in the calculated length.
posted by plulai, contributed by Marc C.

Pendulum Lab

After half an hour of administrative stuff and getting acquainted, we start the pendulum lab.
After a discussion of what a pendulum is about and the variables of mass, length, and angle we want to investigate, I turn them loose in groups of two for them to take data. The equipment is set out and I let them design the experiment. Many are decent experimenters but some need prompting. All possible errors usually rear their ugly heads so that they can be addressed. The students like doing something substantive the first day.

From: R. Paul Dugas; Posted by plulai

Subversive Lab Group Names

Slightly edited from Frank Noschese's blog:
I wait at the door and, as kids entered class, gave each one a card with a word on it. Initially, students could sit wherever they liked. On the back of the card, they had to write their name, one thing they considered themselves to be experts at, and one thing they still struggle with. (This prevented card swapping when it was time to organize into groups. Plus I get some tidbits about my students.)
I didn’t give them the group themes, but simply told them that they were to find 3 other similar people. In the end, there would be 6 groups of 4. They also had to introduce themselves as they looked at each other’s cards.
Here are the groupings:
  • PLUTO, MICKEY, DONALD, GOOFY (Disney characters)
  • VENUS, MARS, SATURN, EARTH (planets)
  • MERCURY, IRON, NEON, COBALT (elements)
FirstDayLabGroups Word document, ready for printing and cutting.
When it was time for students to find their groups, the room started buzzing as they compared cards:
  • “Do you mean President Ford or Ford cars?”
  • “Is Mercury a planet, a car, or an element?”
  • Early groupings based on looking at a few cards typically changed as more groups started falling in place. For example, if Pluto and Mercury initially sat with the other planets, they soon realized they needed to regroup
  • Sometimes when the class got stuck, one or two students emerged to take leadership roles and started writing groupings on the board, or laying out the cards on the floor so everyone could see all the cards. (It’s good for the teacher to quickly see who these students are.)
The Post-Game Analysis
Subversive elements I wanted kids to experience (which we discuss after):
  • There’s more than one “right” answer; several groupings were possible (e.g., Lincoln and Ford could be swapped).
  • One or two data points does not a pattern make.
  • Data from EVERYONE is needed to see the big picture. (We do labs where every group does something different, then we regroup as a class and report out.)
  • Models evolve overtime as more data is added.
  • Communication and sharing is vital.
Frank's Blog is at:

Cash Container

I present the students with a container (about 1.2 Liter) full of nickels and pennies. They first have to guess how much money is in the container. Then they get into groups (2 or 3) and create a procedure to determine the amount of money in the container. They can only use a scale, ruler, sample money, graduated cylinder and water. They cannot open the container. After this they create a second prediction based on their procedure and analysis along with an +/- error (i.e. $5.40 +/- $0.30). The winning group is the group that has the smallest +/- while still encompassing the actual value in their prediction. The group can then split up the amount of money in the jar (usually around $20) as bonus points on their first test.
From: Mike Maloney (

Welcome To Physics Optical Illusion

This certainly doesn't take up an entire period, but it does get the students jazzed about physics.
This was published in "The Physics Teacher" at some point.
I am attaching a jpg of an image I made in Photoshop. Each of the four blades has 1/4 of the information of the phrase "Welcome to Physics".
If you print the image and glue it to something that fits into your rotator then shine a strobe light on it with a rate that is four times as fast as the RPM's of the rotator, you will see the entire message at once.

Another option for creating your own personalized message is to type your message in a word document, then selectively change the color of the font for some of the letters from black to white. This maintains the correct spacing between the remaining letters. So, you change 3/4 of the letters to white on each of four phrases (keeping track of which are still black). Then, when these four images are superimposed--it reads the entire message. This technique is easier to align on the rotator, but easier for the kids to figure out what the message says. I have NOT tried increasing the number of blades to, say, six, so that there are fewer letters in each blade.

I am also attaching a copy of a follow-up worksheet involving the optical illusion disc of a bird and a cage.

Jennifer Groppe (


Game of Science

I discovered The Game of Science a couple years back and it's been my go-to since. I usually tell students I'm a huge board game aficionado, that I have <some huge number> of board games in my attic that I was cleaning out over the summer. While doing so, I stumbled across game materials but the rules have gone missing and I have no idea how to play. Luckily the last people to play recorded their game histories and so the students would be spending the majority of the block reverse-engineering the rules for me. Hammers home the idea of science as a process I think, along with Veritasium's "Can You Solve This?" video.
-Marco Almeida