Friday, June 3, 2011

Summer School

In the month of June, as most students are beginning to think about summer camp, or a temporary job, some students are beginning a new semester of school.  Whether they are retaking a failed class or trying to get ahead in their studies, summer school is not how most adolescents would like to spend their summer.

I have an unusually high interest in the notion of summer school this year because, for the first time, I will be teaching a class during these hot months.

Summer courses are much like fall or winter courses.  The classrooms are the same, but tend to have fewer students in them, and are filled with much hotter air.  Most institutions I know of, mine included, have no air conditioning.  I plan on wearing sandals to work. 

I suppose the main difference between regular semester courses and summer ones is that students sitting in class during the summer do not want to be there.  Let me rephrase that ... However much a student wants to be in a classroom under normal circumstances, they want to be there in the summer less.

Summer is supposed to be a time to relax.  In our childhood, it is the time to play outside.  It is typically less structured than the rest of the year.  It is a time that is conducive to slacking.  And, I must admit, I have done my share of summer slacking over the years.

Where does that leave me?  This coming Monday, I will be faced with twenty or so adolescent students who want to be sleeping or tanning or both.  They do not want to be learning about vectors, circular motion, or the conservation of energy.
In a typical semester, my classroom is composed of three roughly equal groups.  The first third have chosen a path of science, and want to learn physics.  The second group of students are pushed into science by their parents and are willing to try to appease them.  The last group wander into the classroom as though they are lost and maintain a lost expression on their face throughout the semester.

I expect my class this summer to have a similar student makeup, but for everyone involved, myself included, to be itching to leave, go sit by a lake and enjoy some soft ice cream.
I am open to suggestions as to how to make the upcoming five-week intensive physics course as enjoyable as possible for my students.  I am content to talk about physics for three hours each day, but I am also a nerd who operates a science blog.
Is it possible to make the classroom experience so positive that the majority of students actually want to spend their precious summer time there?  That is my goal, but I am not sure it is an achievable one.  Any advice?


Nagarajan said...

Well, I had a similar experience in a slightly different scenario...I followed the below approach which may be some help to you...

First few hours I closely observed the students by interacting with them on totally non-technical things....for example quoting things that I've did or normally what people do during that age and time of the year...after mastering in that divided the students in to 3-4 groups based on their interest...I've done this to myself so that I can identify how many different flavours I have to add into my lecture...for example one of the groups that I've got it was so interested with a sport called cricket - one of the popular sports in India, so all my teching had a flovor of cricket in it...then some of them were movie freaks so I bleded some of the hit movies and which portion of it had a technical touch...initially I found it difficult because I needed an ICE BREAKER...once I got that then I was on my swing...

So good luck...and happy teaching...

I'll teach it is going to be very interesting experience for you...

g4hsean said...

I believe i have a good point to add to Nagarajan answer to your question on how to make summer classes more appealing. I am actually one of your students right now for physics and believe that up until now it has been interesting. To make it a little more attractive i think a multitude of things could be added one of which Nagarajan mentioned which states separating the class into groups and incorporating interests. I would go a step further on his ideal and maybe incorporate a brief movie on the use of physics in the real world from the MythBusters show for everyones interest. (I believe they have a video for almost every aspect of physics and almost everyones interest)

An interesting addition to the course that would attract me more to the course would be to have a class project which spans the whole semester. By that i mean it would include every topic we learn throughout the semester and would engage us more with the application of physics instead of always learning about the theory of physics. I know the Labs are supposed to do what i am saying. But i guess what i mean is building something not for experimentation purposes but to solve a typical problem in life. Like using physics to build a system to launch a basket ball into a net or to build a mini earthquake generator ( and prove why it may or may not work. I know the latter far out of our scope but it is just an example.

I believe if we can solve real life problems with physics while learning the theory, I as a student would have a better understanding on how to apply physics as well as greater respect for the field.

I hope this helps in structuring a class that not only appeals to the students but to you as well. I also think this approach would be successful in engaging the students since the displays near the physics study center seem to attract everyone.