Friday, June 3, 2011
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?