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Up and Moving

If the students are up and moving in the classroom, they can't be sleeping in their chairs.  Now I am sure we all like to think that our lectures and discussions are super stimulating, but some students actually need physical movement to learn (kinetic learning is not just about doing!)  I personally think I have my best ideas during my morning walks.  Also, some students need movement to keep them alert --- especially those who are in the Corps of Cadets, or those who also have the additional weight of family or work obligations, or those who are simply burning the candle at both ends! 

Here are some easy ways to introduce activity and movement in the class:
  • Firstly, you must move around!  Don't just stand lecture --- walk up and down the aisles and across the back of the room, talking and making eye contact.  My students have to turn and twist in their chairs to keep up with me.

  • Have the students rearrange the desks and chairs during discussions and group work (there are no rules that you have to teach in the classroom configuration you are given).  If chairs are bolted to the floor, have them sit in groups on the floor, or on their desks, or standing in groups working through a problem on a poster/black/white board.   Don't settle for them just turning in their bolted chairs and not actively contributing to their discussion group; encourage them to form a circle so they can hear what each other is saying and look each other in the eye.  Communication skills are a core learning outcome in most courses.

    I once used the classroom 
    configuration problem as a productive ice-breaking activity for engineering class at the beginning of semester: I had all the students collectively brainstorm and decide on how the chairs and  desks in the room could be quickly and best reconfigured for (a) small group work and (b) a round table discussion.  Every class following that activity, I put either a large square or group of squares up on the board and the students would immediately spring into action rearranging the furniture!

  • If you have students who habitually fall asleep or who do not seem engaged, call upon them to help in the class.  Chances are they are kinetic learners and need to move.  Use students to keep lists of discussion points on the black/white board for everyone to read.  Once trust is established, I have even handed over the podium technology to them, using a smart board, google docs or a document projector to make a visible list or diagram that can be shared online after the class.  I had one former sleeper who was very proud (and subsequently quite alert) to be regularly asked to read out loud to the class the muddiest point index cards from a 'fish bowl' of student questions.  I also ask these students to help distribute  or collect materials to/from class members.

  • Another really wonderful way to get everyone moving is to have them collectively come up and write their idea/thought/problem on the board. Have a bunch of markers or chalk on hand if you plan to do this.   Sometimes, in very large classes, I have students write their ideas on separate sticky ('Post-It') notes and then place the notes in predefined category areas (maybe back, front and side of the classroom).  I then move around the room discussing selected ideas/thoughts and problems - and everyone feels like they have contributed.  Often students don't return to their own seats but move around with me.

  • Whenever my students engage in group work in class they produce a poster on either paper or electronically (see some suggestions here) --- after their group discussions they must get up and present their ideas or conclusions to others. This also gets them moving.

  • Walk & Talk,,,, when I was first introduced to this idea I thought it was a bit stupid.... until I tried it!   The students love it, so give it a chance.

  • This idea sounds hokey, but it works.  Sometimes you look out into a sea of disinterested faces and become disheartened.  Maybe its the week after Spring Break and no one wants to be there.... you included!  When this happens, I tell everyone to stand up - and we do a Happy Dance!  For one minute we let lose!  Make a conga line, shake it off, play music if you must.  You can make up your own dance --- I am not showing you mine!  The students will think you're mad; some won't join in, but others will.  A hokey dance lightens the atmosphere and makes for a fresh start.  Learning and sharing ideas should be fun!