Here I start to feel a little out of my depth and am finding it difficult to think how my physics class can encourage good social skills among my students, anyway here we go.

Social skills are concerned with how students relate to each other and to their teacher. From a child's first day at  school they start to develop social skills that they may not have developed whilst at home with their parents, things like joining in with games, sharing toys, speaking in groups, respect for others, making friends and handling conflicts. Where I live on the west coast of Norway the population is quite small and many schools have had to close down, the reason is mainly financial but also because in these small communities children are often quite isolated and school is vital for developing social skills, a small school is not conducive to this development. If you have ever taught a class of less then 4 students you will know how different it is. Maybe this is an argument for large classes? I know that quite a few schools offering the IB alongside the national curriculum have very small classes which makes social interaction rather difficult, get out the mobile phone.

If we consider the extreme case of a student with social anxiety we can see how it affects their learning. Social anxiety is the fear of interaction with other people that brings on self-consciousness, feelings of being negatively judged and evaluated, and, as a result, leads to avoidance. ( A student with social anxiety will dread coming to class. Where will I sit? What if I'm asked a question? What if we have to discuss? What if it's a role play? With all these potential problems to think about it's difficult to concentrate on the subject matter, maybe not even worth showing up.

So, social skills are important within the context of education and most of our students will already have highly developed skills that can be used to enhance their classroom experience, all we have to do is to provide the opportunity.

Cultural context

One thing to bear in mind is that social acceptability is not universal and if you are working in a school like mine, that brings together students from all round the world at the age of 16, then there are extra challenges. In the UK, if you see a group of friends having a discussion and join them then you wait for a break in the conversation before joining in, you don't walk up and start speaking. Of course you can but some may think it rude. In Latin America the newest person to join the group has the right to speak first. I may have got this slightly wrong as it is something remembered from a course I once attended on non violent communication. Our students may have highly developed social skills but they may not be compatible. International schools often develop their own social norms that don't always fit in with the outside world. At my school it is accepted that if you want a second helping of food you can go right to the front of the queue, try doing that at a hotel buffet.


One of the most useful social skills with respect to education is collaboration, working together. This has already been dealt with to some extent in the section Collaboration under approaches to teaching. The IB document gives this more emphasis by introducing something called spider discussions. Spider stands for:

synergetic—a collaborative, group effort with a single group grade

process—a process that must be practised and honed

independent —students work independently; teacher observes and gives feedback

developed—a developed, sustained discussion that aims to “get somewhere”

exploration—an exploration of ideas, texts or questions through discussion with a …

rubric—a clear, specific rubric against which the students can self-assess.

This is a way of facilitating student discussion using clear guidelines. This is way out of my comfort zone and I will have to experiment a bit more with these methods before writing about them on my website. If you are interested you can find out more from Alexis Wiggins's blog. here you will find a video of the process. After watching the video I have the impression that the teacher has simply been replaced by the brightest student in the class, very few students seem to be involved. I'm not sure how this approach could be used in a physics class but I intend to try something similar. If you have experience of this please write to me.

Making a video

Making a video to explain some physical phenomenon is a real task that require collaboration and communication, I have never tried this but now, since most of my students have video cameras, I think I will give it a go. If they are any good I'll post the results on you tube.  I had a quick search and this one is quite fun.

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