Hacking the Classroom

Every instructor has likely walked into a room and thought, “Oh, no. How am I going to teach in this room?” The classroom might be in the basement and have no light or have more chairs shoved into it than it truly fits. I am used to hacking the classrooom and making it work. This might mean working with what I have and making the best of it. I have to walk and work the classroom and it is imperative that I have a place to move–to pace. 

I also need to see students’ faces. I am pretty good at reading a room and I need to see the ephiphanies or looks of boredom so that I can respond. I will ask students to not sit in the very back or if they must multi-task to do so in the back of the classroom. I try to set up the etiquette guidelines during the first week. I explain my expectations, then what they can expect from me. I have moved our classroom furniture, booked lab space for one day, and booked a different classroom for group exercises. I will do what it takes to the make the classroom ours, and make it work.  

The image below is from the National Forum on Active Learning Classrooms. We were using playdough to make our ideal learning space. 


Fri Fun Facts: Making the Best Out of Odd Class Times

We have all been there before. You get assigned the early morning class time or your advanced course get the coveted time for a first year course. I have made sure that the early class is interesting and I have at times given them an additional five minutes to get to class to meet them half way!

Another way that I have dealt with this is to shamelessly borrow from a colleague, Dr. Avigail Eisenberg. A few years ago she was also assigned the TWF fifty increments schedule and she opted to lecture on T and W and leave Friday for “seminar.” Half the class attends every other Friday and this allows a better chance for discussion. When she shared this, I immediately changed my course to the same schedule. I’m going to speak to what did not work and what did.

1. I have found that by and large most students do not like change. The first time I adopted this was about one month into the term and some were resistant at first. And, I saw that more than half showed up to the seminar or discussion sessions on Friday.

2. One student even noted in the evaluation that s/he did not pay money to hear classmates speak! This student wanted me to lecture each day. Mind you Friday really turned into the day that the student groups gave presentations and this never changed.

3. Students like this more when immediately know about the class set up in the syllabus. Even so, I find that more than half the class shows up to the seminar or discussion dates.

4. You must be flexible. I divide the class A-M and N-Z and there are Fridays when some show up for the “wrong” week so that they do not have to attend their week. This is fine. I’ll tally up the attendance on Friday and divide by two and calculate!

5. You need to encourage the students to talk if you move to a seminar or discussion class. It cannot just be you. To do this, I have scheduled all of the Student Led Discussions (presentations) on Fridays. This requires that the student groups offer thoughtful questions to their discussions. The student groups are assessed on these discussions, as well.

6. After the class I note the feel of the class discussion and the quality of the comments by the participating students. I also assess the students who lead discussion.

I am in the fifth or more term of using the Friday classes as a seminar or discussion period and thus far I am happy with it.

How do you deal with imperfect class time or classroom assignments?