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Justin Weinberg

I open with a thought experiment or philosophical puzzle related to the course material, though usually not one that I will cover later in the semester. We spend the first third or so of the class meeting discussing it. Then I spend the second third of the class talking a little about what philosophy is (if it's a lower-level course). In the last third of the class I go over the syllabus.

I think starting with the syllabus is boring boring boring.

Eddy Nahmias

I always go over the syllabus in detail, but I do it in the last 20 minutes. For the first 50 minutes I ask them to use a big note card (which they will fold lengthwise for a namecard to give me at end of class and then have for future classes to learn each others' names). On the back, they write answers some questions, such as major, previous classes (or background) in phil, current classes, hours working, etc., plus 2-3 short answers to questions relevant to the class (e.g., what do you think free will is?). For Intro, the questions are:
What is one question you think of as "philosophical" that you had as a child?
What do you think philosophy is (or what do you think philosophers study)?

They spend 5 minutes introducing themselves to another student, sharing their answers. Then I introduce myself and the question I had (I describe in detail a 'bout' of solipsism I had at around age 12). Then I have them tell me their philosophical questions (sometimes having the person they talked to introduce them), which I may write on the board. (It's fantastic hearing their questions--they typically cover the problem of evil, personal identity, free will, lots of ethical issues, etc.) Then, I use that to explain how philosophy is the comprehensive and systematic study of the questions that kids ask: Why? and that teenagers ask: Why do I have to?

As you can imagine, this easily takes up the 50 minutes, I learn some names, they all say something (which is important for later classes), and they learn a little about philosophy.

The same basic technique can be used for more advanced classes, using the more advanced questions or thought experiments (as Justin suggested).

Michael Cholbi

A 'pre-quiz' is a nice first day exercise. A simple version: Give students some statements (probably no more than 10) related to the course content and ask them whether they agree or disagree with the statements. The statements should relate to more controversial issues discussed in the course. You can do this individually, in groups, or some combination thereof. This exercise introduces the course material in a dynamic way, shows interest in the students' thinking, gives the students something to look for later in the course, etc.

Jason Brennan

I've been teaching PPE courses, so I usually do economics games. E.g.:

1. Martin Shubik's dollar auction (to illustrate a negative sum game)
2. Candy trading game (to illustrate concept of gains from trade and to illustrate a positive sum game)


I try to get my students talking on the first day. (It establishes a norm.) I do this by showing relevant movie clips or presenting relevant puzzles. I try to find movie clips or puzzles I'm myself ambivalent or confused about, so that I can join the conversation and show them that my (supposedly) being better at philosophy than they are is not a matter of my knowing the answers.

I distribute syllabi as they leave, and let the students know that next time we meet there will be a quiz over the syllabus. This lets them know I'm serious about their reading and understanding the syllabus, lets them know that it's their responsibility to read and understand the syllabus, and leaves the first day free for getting them excited for the course.

(My syllabus often contains remarks about the point of, and how to go about, reading philosophical texts. It also contains a description of my somewhat idiosyncratic way of making sure they keep up with the reading. I think it's important for them to have some idea of how and why we're doing what we're doing. So I test their understanding of that.)

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