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5 Engaging Digital Icebreakers for Back To School!

As we are preparing to welcome our students back to school, many teachers are dusting off well-worn "ice breakers" for that first day. From "tell us about your summer" to "set some goals for the new year" we all have our go-to toolkit of new year prompts and games. But what about those with some tech to spice up this welcome? Here are 5 back-to-school digital ice breakers to ring in the new year with gusto:

The QR Code Scavenger Hunt

Oftentimes one of the first things we do with a new class is get them acclimated to the classroom and help set expectations around routines and behavior. This can be a very didactic and dry activity, lots of "don't do this" and "always do this" statements. Instead, create fun videos animating or explaining how to move through the classroom environment successfully. From how to check out a book to how to ask for help, these "PSA" videos are a fun way to get your students into the groove of your room, but also serve a reminder when someone "forgets". Make this more interactive by adding in QR Codes! Post a QR code in the different spaces of your classroom. Then have students move in pairs or groups to scan the QR codes and watch the videos explaining this area of the room. Tip for the end of the year: In the Spring, have your "graduating" class create the how-to PSAs for the incoming class!

Padlet Chat

Students love to talk about their summer and share stories of sunny adventures and new successes. Have them create a virtual discussion on Padlet. This digital bulletin board allows students to post text, pictures and links either in a free-form post-it note like fashion, or a more organized grid (you can, as the teacher, adjust the layout to suit your needs). The bulletin board can then be exported to post on a website, print out or save as an Excel or .csv file to be archived as a reference!

Google Draw Your Goals

Google Drawings is the oft-overlooked tool in the Google Drive suite. However, it offers a ton of amazing opportunities for creating multimedia reflections or student work. In the beginning of the school year, I like to have students take a photo of themselves using their device's built in camera. They add it to the canvas of a Google Drawing and insert transparent shapes over different parts of the photo. For example, they might insert a circle over their eyes, then change the color to transparent. This now invisible circle can be linked to a Google Doc or Google Presentation that describes their goal for keeping their eyes on the teacher during lessons. They might draw a transparent box over their hands and link this box to a Google Doc or Presentation describing a goal for doing more hands-on activities this year. As such, when they click on their eyes or hands, the links will pop up another page showing their goals. Voila! Interactive photo with built-in goals!

Animate your Friends

If you want to get your students collaborating, try having them interview one another! Give them a list of questions to ask their partner then allow them to write some of their own. Then, have them animate the interview talk-show style using great free tools like PowToon (web-based) or PuppetPals (iPad). You can host a "film festival" at the end where students air their interviews -- and everyone can get to know one another a bit better!

Video Time Capsule

Have your students create self-interviews reality TV "confessional" style. Ask them to turn on their devices' video camera and create a video message to their future end-of-year selves. Ask them to talk about their goals, their hopes for the year and their concerns. Then "archive" these videos and take them out mid or end of year to help students see how they've grown!

Finally - bonus! - Consider allowing students to create their own device wallpapers. Have them take a photo of themselves and use an annotation app to "decorate" it. For students who share devices, have them decorate the device's number... i.e., if they use iPad #11, have them decorate a big 11 with 11 stars, 11 hearts, 11 dinosaurs, etc. In this way the wallpaper will serve as a visual reminder of whose device is whose... but also becomes personalized to the students.

I've also recently shared all of these ideas in a McGraw-Hill webinar.

Hope these ideas help break the ice in your classrooms this fall. If you have other ideas or modifications of these, please share below!

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