Social Friction

Social friction.  Say what?

Social Friction is the idea that students have a social bubble around them. The tighter students are packed into a space, the greater the ability and interest in interacting. The more off topic talking, the less learning.

Picture a jar tightly packed with marbles. One marble can’t move a millimeter without bumping into another. In my classroom, there are a lot of marbles tightly packed and there’s a corresponding increase in Social Friction. Room C3 has 30 sixth grade students instead of last years 20 third graders. Not only are there 50% more students, each of their bodies take up more space. And, not only are there more students in bigger bodies, the social requirements of sixth graders is exponentially greater than third graders. I’ve had to look closely at how the classroom is set up and make some significant changes.

Social friction

Teachers consider many variables in setting up the classroom; academic ability, home language, gender, behavior and special needs.  Social friction is another variable and an important one. For example. a child with a large social bubble has a high social friction factor. This child can probably talk to anyone in the class who is nearby and probably shouldn’t be seated in the middle of the room surrounded by talking opportunities. Edges and corners offer less chance of casual contact and off task behavior.  Students who rarely are distracted and not easily pulled off task are ideal students for the center areas as well as ideal buffers between highly social students and the rest of the classroom.

One other change that has helped lesson the class’ social friction is the elimination of extra furniture. I have a single extra student desk, two bookshelves, an AV cart and a two drawer file cabinet. Nothing else. No teacher desk and no tables. I do have a smart wall with a ledge that serves as a space for me to work. When other teachers come into the room they often remark about how spacious it is. It isn’t spacious, just not crowded. The beauty of this arrangement is that there is a bit of space between students. For a child to visit with someone in another group, she has to make an obvious effort. The children are less likely to do so when the chances of discovery are high. An additional benefit is that it’s easy to move about the room. It’s a quick straight path to help any student in the room, or, be right next to that student with the giant social bubble if needed.

This class still has a long way to go to overcome the negative effects of social friction, but we’re getting there.

Next up, student brain lube. Nothing like a little grease to get the students thinking…

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