My Next Job: Mall Photographer

If this teaching gig ever stops working out, there is one job that I think I would be pretty good at: Mall Kid’s Photographer. Their job is to distract children into smiling while they take pictures of them, because children don’t yet understand that okay, sometimes you just smile even if you don’t feel it  for the purpose of the picture. Sometimes I feel the same way about teaching, like I’m up in front of the class doing back flips and cartwheels to try to trick them into actually learning things, getting them genuinely engaged even if it isn’t directly with the material at hand.

Sixteen and seventeen year olds are very transparent in some ways – it is 100% obvious when they find something uninteresting, and don’t feel like smiling for the sole reason that there is a camera in from of them. I find that a lot of them aren’t okay with learning just for the sake of learning if they aren’t genuinely interested, which proves a problem when everyone is required to take math and science. Though frustrating at times, I see it more positively – it’s a nice litmus test for me to see if what I planned is engaging for its own sake and not just because I ask them to be engaged, if the curriculum is actually worth teaching or if we should rethink say, how much time 2×2 matrices deserve in our Algebra classes…

I had one of my favorite Physics classes in a while yesterday. For Thursday afternoon, I brought in cookies as a reward for having finally made 30 mistakes on the board for the year in Physics (part of my Donut Points paying attention promotion). I announced this about 10 minutes before the end of the period, followed quickly by the catch: I will only give you the cookies if you can tell me how many times I would have to run up the clock tower on campus to burn one cookie off, and how powerful I am compared to a horse. I then started a PowerPoint that gave them pieces of information every minute or so that would help them and also announced I’d be willing to give them any information that they explicitly asked for (height of the clock tower, my mass, calories in one cookie, how fast I can run etc). It was perfect because there was literally a carrot dangling in front of them (except sweeter and less healthy), they had to figure out what information was pertinent (instead of a dumb textbook problem that hides all the information in the question) and they had to use everything we had been talking about in 4 or 5 step process to answer a very simple, real life question – a question that didn’t have any Physics lingo in it, whose answer didn’t have any Physics lingo in it. Though it worked better in one section than the other, and some kids hung back and let the strong students take over, the level of engagement and excitement was phenomenal, especially for the last 10 minutes of the last class on a Thursday afternoon (our last day of the week).

The surprising answer: 43.7 times. I would have to run up our clock tower, which is about 15.4 meters = 50 ft high, almost 44 times to burn off a single 120 calorie cookie. And I’m as powerful as 0.5 horses. Granted there were a lot of simplifications that caused the final answer to be an overestimate, but still, pretty interesting! The funny part: even after calculating that ridiculously high number, no one had any issues shoving a few cookies into their mouths. I offered to open up the clock tower for the afternoon to burn off the cookies I had just given them, but no takers…

I count that activity as successful learning trickery.

P.S. I drew that picture on paint!

Posted on January 8, 2011, in Calculus, Physics, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. impressive story, but even more impressive job on the paint drawing!

  2. I agree with Sam. Maybe your next job should actually be a “paint” artist.

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