Why struggle for the attention of your students?

IMG_6304Is half the class on their computers or phones? Are they sleeping? Is your Facebook page full of advice or queries about how to hold the attention of your students? Do you have strict rules about phones and computers? Do you lock the door against late-comers? Why don’t our students want what we have worked so hard to offer?

What is my plan for my first class later today? I know they’ll form opinions in the first 10 minutes that will correlate highly with their evaluations in four months, so I plan to be dynamic and engaging. For about ten minutes. Then I’m going to put them to work on a project. Since I teach the most wonderful of all topics, behavior, I’ll be having them watch a behavior video. Not the kind with a narrator, but the kind I’ve put on YouTube myself, with unedited action, like this, or ,processed like this. I might have them watch bee or wasp videos too, also under YouTube strassm, or at this site. What is going on? How might they approach these animals scientifically? What do they already know about behavior anyway?

I’ll let them work on their own for awhile and then I’ll let them compare notes with others. How are their answers the same or different? Write some more. What do they know really? Activities and interactions possibly interspersed with very short lectures are what work, study after study shows (ok, I should link to some here, but I am not going to since it is only 5 am).

I’ll make the whole class about learning and producing information. It is not an approach that works for every topic, but it works for most. My own class is on Wikipedia, last year and this year.IMG_6609

Can you teach a whole class this way? Yes. What if it is math? Yes. Look at what Arizona State is doing. You just need one more thing, the subject of my next piece, an exploded classroom.

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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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