Let’s Move! Political Science Edition

This is a guest post from Sarah Fisher, a PhD candidate at the University of Georgia.  

Having taught squirrely twelve-year-olds in addition to tired undergraduates, I am always looking for ways to get my students out of their desks. Kinesthetic activities that ask students to move around a classroom require students to get out from behind their notes and to interact with their classmates. Getting students to move interjects energy into the room and aids retention of content. Finally, moving around the room helps create a sense of comfort in and ownership over the classroom, and, by extension, the learning process.

In short, asking students to be active learners isn’t just about active brains.

What kinds of activities am I talking about? My favorite simple activity is a “line of contention.” In political science, we discuss plenty of contentious issues. Rather than simply ask students for their opinions on some topic, such as “Gender issues should be considered a part of U.S. foreign policy,” or “The U.S. should intervene militarily in the Syrian conflict,” I ask students to take a stand– literally. I designate one side of the room as “Strongly Agree” and the other as “Strongly Disagree.” I ask students to get out of their desks and to create a human Likert scale by arranging themselves on the continuum.

Students must align themselves on the spectrum according to their opinion on a particular issue. Once students have placed themselves on the spectrum, I ask students to defend their own views while considering the merits of opposing opinions.

This activity and others like it have helped my students grapple with difficult material, synthesize course content, and vary the means of expression.

In my experience, K-12 educators are way ahead of college instructors on this front. When it comes to tactics for student engagement, my most valuable tools (like the one above) have been borrowed from K-12 educators or have been born out of desperation. (Summer jobs teaching twelve-year-olds for six hours each day forced me to pull out all of my tricks and create some new ones.)

My colleague, Kayce Mobley, and I have compiled a collection of kinesthetic activities available here. The article, “Ditching the Desks: Kinesthetic Learning College Classrooms,” includes kinesthetic activities and examples of ways we have used these activities with college students. What are your best tactics to get students active? What kinds of classroom activities have you used to get students moving?

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