Communication and Classroom Environment

For the first day of class, I tell the students that they are getting a very serious essay test. Kids are moved away from one another, and told to get out a piece of paper. Then they get their topic: write a complete set of instructions for making a paper airplane.

No research, no talking, no discussion. Just create it.

This is not an original idea. It was from an article about modeling instruction. I love it for many reasons, one of which is the look on the kids face when they realize that maybe this “test” is not as big of a deal after all. Of course that is a bit of a misnomer. It is a big deal, and not as easy as they think.

Proof in the pudding? After they are done, kids exchange instructions and have to make an airplane based on those instructions. No questions. No clarifications.

The results are so telling. Something that they have made dozens of times, and yet they cannot verbalize to someone else how to make one. Some do numbed steps. Some try to use drawings. Good ideas, but there is still something missing. Sure it’s fun to laugh at the air planes since most will not fly, but it is a real eye opener in terms of their communication skills.

So much of physics and modeling, is the ability to communicate. White boarding sessions are only as good as the discussion. That means communication by the presenters, questioners, and of course the instructor. Activities like this only serve to highlight the importance of those communication skills. It creates that classroom environment where it is okay and expected that you fail from time to time. Where you can be comfortable showing that kind of weakness, and know your classmates will have your back. A big deal when you are talking about teenagers.

Plus it’s a lot more fun (and meaningful) than spending all hour going over policies.

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