Reflections on Time and Space in Mathematics Classrooms

During this semester of teaching, I have decided to focus on the ways in which I engage with time and space in the classroom.  To frame this consideration, I have been looking at a book chapter entitled Landscaping Classrooms Towards Queer Utopias, by Kai Rands, Jess McDonald, and Lauren Clapp (2013).  Their chapter title is inspired by the work of Jill Casid who proposes that we should consider landscape as a verb.  Using an analogy between performative models of queerness, in which queerness is about doing rather than being, Casid proposes opening up spaces for non-normative landscaping.

In this chapter, Rands, McDonald, and Clapp take up Casid’s ideas and apply them to classrooms.  They argue that classrooms are arranged so that “students will enter the classroom on time, take their seats, remain stationary throughout the class so the knowledge imagined to reside in the instructor can follow the sight lines from teacher to student in a timely fashion into the minds of the students, and finally leave class” (p. 153).  In my math classroom, the chairs default to facing the smartboard, with an assumption that there is one teacher who stands at the front of the classroom, lecturing, and that only that one person writes on the board.  In fact, the smartboard sometimes gets confused if two people are holding a pen at a time, so it is challenging for two people to be working problems on the board at the same time.  I have to intentionally ask students to move into groups; although they will sit near their group, they do not sit in groups by default.

Likewise, class occurs within a fixed range of time; if students arrive early for class, they have to remain in the hall; if they stay late in class, another class of students will enter.  Students from two separate classes are not supposed to interact; even if students enter for the next class, they do not ask the previous class what was covered.  The digital smartboard automatically erases at the end of class, meaning that the possibility that the next class will get to see and discuss what was on the previous class’s whiteboard is foreclosed.  There is a clearly designated time for mathematics and aside from homework, the rest of the hours of the day are not for mathematics.  Once class is dismissed, although students sometimes come up to ask me questions (rarely about mathematics, usually more about their grades or their worries about the exams), they do not continue to discuss mathematics with each other; the time for discussing mathematics is over, delimited into this narrow, confined space.

Rands et al. proposes that instructors should challenge norms in the classroom around time, proposing that classes could meet at unusual times, such as 6am or 11pm, on different times each day or for different lengths of time each class.  Classes could also meet in different spaces; they propose that teachers “go on a field trip, conduct class at a coffee shop or a park, or hold class outside” (p.164).  I have asked why we do not have evening or early morning classes, and the response is that they are not as popular anymore now that online classes are available and that classes are only to be scheduled at times that fit student preferences.

I am thinking, too, about ways in which I could change the way time is organized within in my classroom.  One thing I have been doing is to forego the traditional break in favor of a more open classroom, where students can get up and attend to personal matters as they arise, particularly when students are working in groups.  Another strategy I am trying is being available by email on evenings and weekends when students are actually working on homework, rather than only checking email during office hours.

If we want to transform our teaching, thinking about how we (together with our students) use time and space both inside and outside of the classroom is essential.  In future posts, I will discuss additional articles that I have consulted about time and space in the context of education.


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