Activity: Establish Classroom Norms

Theoretical Mechanics (4 years)
In this hour-long activity, students establish classroom norms for being respectful when working in small groups. This is particularly helpful in the first course a cohort of students encounters.
What students learn Class establishes classroom norms.

Description of the Activity

  1. Prep: Assign students to groups of 3-4 students.
  2. Each group should have two whiteboards. Ask students to introduce themselves and write names and pronouns on one of the boards.
  3. Prompt: In order to really learn physics well, it is important to share your physics ideas and practice using them in front of the instructional team and your classmates. What can the members of this class do to help you feel comfortable sharing your ideas in your small groups and with the whole class? What does "being respectful" look like in this class? Use one whiteboard to list ways that your classmates can support your learning. Use the other whiteboard to list ways that the instructional team can support your learning.
  4. Presentations:“Things students can do” (the first whiteboard) Have each group talk present their list. Groups should first introduce themselve to the group (names and pronouns). I suggest that groups acknowledge things that have been discussed before, i.e., “we agree (or disagree) that we should listen and try to understand other students' ideas”, and add new things “we also suggest that we should learn and use the names of other students in our groups”. It is important to see what things have consensus and discuss some of the nuances of the suggestions. The instructional team could share their own pre-made board at the end.
  5. Discussion:”Things the instructional team can do (the second whiteboard) I suggest having a whole class brainstorming list on the class whiteboard. It's nice when the students can see the instructor agree to something the students want (shows responsiveness). It's also nice for the instructor to explain their reasoning about not making certain changes (e.g., “I can't post homework more than a week ahead because the pace of the class and the order of the topics can change based on how the activities in class go” or “I prefer not to make the homework due at midnight because my experience is that most students work right up to the deadline and lack of sleep is bad for physical and mental health.”).

Student Conversations

  1. The first time I ran this activity, most groups said some variant of “be respectful”. Press groups to describe specifically what being respectful looks like.
  2. You can make the activity shorter by asking groups to only report on things that have not already been mentioned. This is good because they have to listen to the other groups, but I like the opportunity for students to say they agree with each other.

Example Lists:

Things Students Can Do:

  1. Learn & use names and pronouns
  2. Don't use “dude” as a generic word for person
  3. Encourage everyone in the group to participate
  4. Don't ignore group mates - ask for their ideas
  5. Be patient with wrong answers
  6. Don't interrupt
  7. Don't tell offensive jokes
  8. Give positive feedback
  9. Let someone know that you had the same question as them

Things the Instructional Team Can Do:

  1. Have evening or weekend office hours/lots of office hours
  2. Learn names & pronouns
  3. Be patient with wrong answers
  4. Give people time to think
  5. Have flexible due dates
  6. Post homework assignments early
  7. Post solutions before exams
  8. Post reading assignments
  9. Don't call on people who don't have their hand raised
  1. Each group should have two whiteboards. Introduce yourselves to your group and write your names and pronouns on one of the boards.
  2. In order to really learn physics well, it is important to share your physics ideas and practice using them in front of the instructional team and your classmates.

    What can the members of this class do to help you feel comfortable sharing your ideas in your small groups and with the whole class?

    What does "being respectful" look like in this class?

    • Use one whiteboard to list ways that your classmates can support your learning.

    • Use the other whiteboard to list ways that the instructional team can support your learning.

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Author Information
Liz Gire
Learning Outcomes