A Last-Day Activity--Graphing Students' Ups and Downs--and Future Expectations

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Does it ever seem like the mood or satisfaction of a class varies over time, from stressed to happy and/or back again? I found this activity helps respond to students' ups and downs. It works best on the last day of classes, but you can also do it after any substantial period of time or significant milestone:
  1. Give every student a large, blank sheet of paper. Standard 8 x 11 inch will work, but larger than this is better.
  2. Instruct students to make a graph of their general satisfaction with the course over time. The vertical axis will indicate the student's level of satisfaction (higher = more satisfied, happier), and the horizontal axis will indicate the passage of time (left end = start of the course, part-way to the right end = the present, extreme right end = the future). Here is an example of a "happiness graph," though other formats are also possible.
  3. Invite each student to choose significant landmarks related to the course or to their personal lives along the horizontal axis. Let each student choose his/her landmarks freely, though suggest the following framework:
    1. the left end of the "time" axis should correspond to the start of the course;
    2. somewhat to the right of the middle should correspond to the present moment (i.e. to the end of the course);
    3. the extreme right end should correspond to the near future (i.e. next semester, next year, etc.)
  4. Give students time to create the landmarks, and then to draw the graph.
  5. Invite students to show their graphs to each other, and/or to the whole class, and/or to post the graphs around the classroom.
When I've done this activity, some results are predictable (e.g. assignment deadlines can be moments of unhappy stress), but some are not (e.g. a student may have been unhappy for personal reasons). My impression (albeit undocumented) is that students' predictions are invariably more positive than their recollections of the past--i.e. no matter how stressed things got during the course, they tend to expect things to get better "next time."

- Seifert Seifert May 12, 2010