In Physics Education, the Room Matters

Rhett Allain
5 min readJan 26, 2024
Photo: Rhett Allain. A typical room for introductory physics

It’s a new semester with a new class in a new room. The class is the calculus-based introductory physics with about 20 students. This is going to be great. But wait. I’m in the room you see above.

It turns out that the physical environment can make a big difference in the effectiveness of a class — it also makes a big difference in my attitude. Some rooms are just terrible. Let’s go over some of these rooms so I can point out things I like and don’t like. It will be fun.

Room 1: Plain Lecture Room — Small Version

I’m just going to list some things I hate about this room.

  • Why is there a cork board in there? What is the purpose? That’s taking up some valuable chalkboard space.
  • The projector screen is huge. When you have it down, it cuts the normal sized chalkboard into two pieces — both of which are too small to be used.
  • But wait! There’s a small marker board on the right side. It’s in a weird location for students to see.
  • Yes, there’s another movable marker board on the left side. I hate these things. They move when you write on them and the bottom part is too low.
  • The students are in desks that are arranged in rows. It’s difficult for them to effectively work in groups.



Rhett Allain

Physics faculty, science blogger of all things geek. Technical Consultant for CBS MacGyver and MythBusters. WIRED blogger.