Sunday, December 4, 2011

In-Class "Warm ups" and "Cool downs"?

Like many of my coworkers and probably many of you, I enjoy exercise and outdoor recreation in a minorly competitive "weekend warrior" sort of way. A lesson that I keep having to relearn is that proper warm ups and cool downs are important, both for avoiding injuries and also for basic mental preparation for what's to come. You don't jump right into the activity. And when it's done, you don't cease it abruptly. You have transitions -- however brief they might be. I've been thinking about what a Philosophy class analogue to a warm up or a cool down might be.

There are already ways that I signal that the class period is starting (and that side conversations, texting, etc. need to cease) -- such as closing the door, welcoming everyone, and posing a Question of the Day. The closest things to warmups and cooldowns that come to mind are that I sometimes have students spend 2 - 3 minutes at the beginning of class doing some sort of guided writing (e.g., "Write down three questions you have about today's readings") or, ditto, at the end of class (e.g., "Write down one question that today's discussion has raised for you", or "Write down something you'd like us to discuss in more depth next time"). It's not always clear to me whether the classes in which I do that, feature deeper engagement, by more students, than the ones in which I don't, though I think it has other benefits.

Are there other, better ways of warming up a class before getting into the hard work of the rest of the class period? Does it need to happen in the first place?


  1. Vance, I'm very much in favor of the warm up/cool down approach. Warmup-wise, I use in-class writing a fair bit (along the lines of my June 15 post). Another thing I've done is a 'tell me what you know shout out': I ask the students to tell me whatever they know about something they read, and I jot their responses on the board. More generally, I often have an agenda I post on the board and I briefly describe each item before beginning.

  2. I also very much encourage the warm-up, because I think it gets students thinking philosophically. Since I teach eloquentia perfecta sections (smaller class size, more emphasis on writing and public speaking) I usually have a student explain some related concept from previous classes, and then ask the class generally whether the philosopher we are studying today would agree with it. For example, when I teach Jackson's knowledge argument I start by having a volunteer (or selected, if none are forthcoming) rehearse Descartes's concept of substance dualism, and then open up the floor to a general discussion of whether a physicalist would accept Descartes's theory, and why or why not.

    I don't always do a cool-down portion (though I should!). The hold-back is not good intentions, but rather lack of time. When I do this formally, I have usually asked a student to summarize what they thought the most important point of the class was.

  3. Excellent topic. Lately I have been doing two things at the start of class. One is to ask someone to review what we talked about last class. Usually several students get involved, and they seem to pay more attention than if I am doing the review. I also have students write answers to the "discussion question of the day" on the board which we then discuss as a class. These seem to help get things warmed up pretty well. I will be posting more about the latter exercise soon.

  4. I have been better about doing this in the past, so this is a good reminder!

    I like to give a quick review of the main points of the last class period as a warm-up. Alternatively, I used to give a brief 3-4 bullet point description of what we'll cover in class that day, but have gotten away from rhis practice. Students have expressed appreciation for this in the past. I think it can be especially useful for helping to give them a context for what is going on at any given point during the class, which helps retention and understanding. I almost never do a cool-down, but it sounds like a useful thing to try.

  5. Given how bad students tend to be regarding taking notes (if they even bother), this thread has got me thinking about whether it might be worth it to assign (on a rotating basis) the job of "class secretary". Such a person(s) would have the job of essentially "taking the minutes" for the important points raised by the instructor and by the class.

    I'm not sure how to properly integrate the idea, or how to assess it, but it might be worth a shot. I think it might be quite useful.

    1. Hi - I know this is an old post - but in my grad school and advanced undergrad classes many courses would have a graded requirement that at least one day of the semester you have to be the secretary. Further, the following class the prior secretary must provide printed and primed copies of their notes for everyone and give a presentation summary at the beginning of class.

  6. Chris,
    I require any student taking notes with a laptop to email them to me immediately after class, with the understanding that there should be some correlation between the amount of time they spend on the computer and the quality/extent of the notes. It wouldn't be hard to then post the notes on Blackboard or whatever you use. Sharing it as a google document would be nice, then the class could edit the notes to improve them.

  7. Chris and Jim,

    That seems like a great idea. I'm of two minds about allowing laptops in the classroom and that might be a way of making sure those on laptops stay focused.


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