Today is the first day of the eighth week of the quarter, which means that we’re nearly, but not quite, done. Midterms are over and graded, but final exams are still three weeks away. In short, it’s a tough time to be in front of a class. They’re tired and I’m tired, but we all know that we can’t yet sprint for the end. Both my classes on Monday were so sluggish that I ended up bringing my plastic pumpkin filled with chocolate from my office during a break just so that they would all get a dose of caffeine and sugar. It more or less worked but isn’t really a sustainable solution.
So when the phone in the lab where I teach class rang today, about 10 minutes after I had started teaching, I was thrilled. The phone sits at the front of the room, so I walked over to it and asked the class if I should answer. They said yes. As soon as I picked it up and said hello I heard a dial tone. I told them they had hung up on me and gave them a grumpy face. They laughed. And for the rest of the class they were more lively and interactive than they have been in weeks.
While the expected phone call was a surprise, the result wasn’t. There is no better technique than silliness to liven up a classroom with tired or bored students. It’s helpful if the silliness is spontaneous and not orchestrated, hence my gratitude for the unexpected phone call. But I do sometimes generate the situation. For example, today is my brother’s birthday which I mentioned out of the blue to both classes. In the second class it turned out that two people in the room had a birthday today, so I made the class join me in singing to them.
The only downside of the silliness is that it doesn’t translate well into class recordings. I have yet to find an equivalent technique that allows online students to share the mood, although I would be happy if I did and I continue to try.