I have my first course meetings this morning. Right now I’m enjoying a one-hour break between classes in what will become my Office Hours once students figure out what Office Hours are for. I thought I’d take the time to write about an important topic I covered during today’s PreCalculus class.
A Very Important Course Policy:
One of the notable policies I have on my syllabus is called my Friendship Policy: Students in my courses are required to make two friends from class. For those of you who, like me, haven’t been a college student in a number of years, this policy may seem very silly and totally unnecessary! However, the policy has an important function at fixing a “problem” I noticed a few semesters ago.
Before class, I would find students sitting on benches in the hallway for several minutes waiting for the previous class to end. There would be, say, ten or twelve students all from the same course, standing in the same hallway, and it was library silent. No person was talking to any other person! Instead, every single one of them was texting someone on their phone, checking Facebook on their iPad, playing a game on their laptop, etc. Eventually they would all enter the same classroom and continue their technologically dependent anti-social activities.
When I pointed this out to my students, they had never noticed this phenomenon and they didn’t understand why I thought it was weird!
“Back in my day,” says the professor…
There were no cell phones. In order to fill the awkward silence, students in my classes would talk to each other, real-time, face-to-face. Sure, we would talk about course-related things like homework or exam studying, but we would also talk about social activities or sporting events or movies or whatever. This is how we made new friends.
I realize that students in my class have lots of friends. (Otherwise, who would they be constantly texting?) But I still have not figured out how they make new friends. Hence the birth of my Friendship Policy:
You are required to make friends with students in this class. If you are absent from class, your friends will be very happy to lend you their notes to copy! In fact, I think cooperative learning is so important I am going to leave blank space on this syllabus for you to write down the names of two of your class friends and their contact information.
After explaining all this to the students, they usually look at me with confused faces until I say something along the lines of, “Friendship Time: Commence!” and then stare at my wristwatch expectantly. Within seconds, the room explodes in conversation. Occasionally, I have to nudge some of the shy students in the right direction.
Results and Analysis
After several classes over several semesters, this policy seems to make a big difference. First, no one sits before class in techno-quiet. They talk to each other, get to know each other, and occasionally I have caught them teaching each other how to do math problems. Second, I no longer get e-mails asking, “What did you cover in class yesterday?” Third, I learn a lot from my students by participating in before class conversations. For example, in this morning’s class, one student is here on a golf scholarship from Sweden! (How awesome is that!)
I still have two more classes this morning. We’ll see how those groups take to forced friendship-making time.
I love this idea. I do something similar on the first day of class: II have a stupid little bingo-type game, where the students have to collect signatures of, say, people who prefer Katniss to Bella. It gets them talking. However, I like the fact that you make it explicit.
I also play music before class on the first day. That seems to lighten the mood.
It sounds like your first day of precalculus was ridiculously good. I wish I had been there to see what you did.
Bret: I’m planning a post on my “first day” activity for PreCalculus; stay tuned and I’ll tell you what I did! 🙂
Christine: I like it because it forces them to talk. I am always so nervous before the start of class (public speaking PHOBIC) and having a silent room of people staring at me causes a lot of anxiety! Once they make friends, they are too busy chatting to pay attention to me staring at them staring at me getting nervous.
I become so disheartened by the errie silence of students texting, checking email etc before the start of class. I am definitely going to try something like this in my class this fall.
This is great! I kind of wish I had read it before I did the whole syllabus thing yesterday. Oh well.
I do have them do a first day activity… there’s a grid of questions (“Where’s your favorite place to eat on campus?” “What’s your pet peeve?” “What are you really good at?” “What do you think about when someone says “calculus”?” “What’s the best class you’ve taken so far?” etc. Some are math-related and some not.) The questions are all covered by post-its, and they take turns pulling a post-it and answering the question underneath.
So they get to know at least a couple of people on the first day. But I like the idea of an explicit phone number / email swap to make sure they know how to contact the buddy for studying, questions, etc. Nice!