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Cross Traffic Does Not Stop

August 29, 2012

How do you accommodate for students’ extra-curricular activities, course loads and other demands in your classroom?

You might think the question above applies only for public school teachers: battling the bustle of students’ schedules can be evidenced by creative assignment schemes to accommodate athletics schedules, quiz bowls, club events and the like. Recording classroom sessions and posting them to the web as videos or screencasts is another way students can review/catch up on what they may have missed during regular class time.

However, “cross traffic” can be more than just extra-curricular activities that act as a physical time constraint. Other coursework generates additional cognitive load. So even if a student has ample “time” for getting work done, they may be struggling cognitively with the overall influx of material.

If learning 400 years of physics content in a single year is like drinking from a fire hose, then what does this times “n” other coursework equate to?

While we would hope scheduled courses are well-balanced and everything dovetails the overall curriculum seamlessly, and that we can relate our course material to everyday life–it doesn’t take long to realize that is an idealistic pipe dream.

For example, when teaching calculus-based physics, I often have students new to physics and concurrently enrolled in calculus. While I can take advantage of this by having students investigate real world applications of elementary calculus (the meaning of a derivative, for example), some care and reservation is required before getting too deep into applications of mathematical integration. So OK, that’s not too bad . . . it’s managable.

But when I try to capitalize on students’ interests so they can better “relate” to the physics, I’ve had mixed results. Discussing what bull riders or line backers experience (rodeo and football are big at NWOSU) and how it applies to “jerk,” I’ve found, does not necessarily bring the physics closer to the students. In fact, sometimes entering a discussion of examples like these makes me come across as Shrek over identifying with Artie in Shrek the Third (go 1:30 minutes into this preview). And then my students post things like #physicsfail.

So what began as a question in a caption of a road sign and led you to believe I had an answer, actually ends with me genuinely soliciting your advice: How do you accommodate for students’ extra-curricular activities, course loads and other demands in your classroom? Do you:


  1. Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist permalink

    I tend to ignore the noise, though casual comments about an athlete’s sport can come up some times.

    • It can depend on how loud the “noise” is. The noise of calculus is welcomed, because we can delve into the applications and meanings of the operations they may be learning in their math class. Other noise can be too tangential and take too much time away from regular class.

      I wonder, are new instructors more susceptible to this for always trying to be cool and over-identifying with student interests?

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