5 Outside the box tips (not groundbreaking)

I was just thinking about this questions yesterday. Being a scientist, the comment was made that when you love science, you love the exciting and you love the tedious. So, I have my five things...

1. Make it personal. I start by listening to the student and what gets them excited and what they are fearful of in that environment.

For example: I have a Math student who loves basketball. He hates math and is very athletic. I ask him "what would you do to increase your free-throw percentage from 52% to 91%?" His response, "I would do anything!" But, he is bad at math on paper, so we come up with a way for him to track his free-throws, shooting percentage, overall efficiency, etc and he calculates these items.

2. Use Analogies. After listening to my student, I start putting all my questions in form that they will understand and love. The student starts forming their own questions because they have learned how to think rather than have a blank stare at the piece of paper.
For example: Open and closed systems -- can of coca-cola.  Acid-base chemistry -- can of coca-cola. Genetic specific phenylketonuria -- can of coca-cola, etc.

3. Have the student teach me. The old saying, "if you teach it, you will learn it well."

4. Have the student put problems in big-picture words. I teach a lot of math and science, and at a certain level there are a lot of equations and small problems. Have the student take you on a tour with words -- creating a world that follows the path to understanding.

5. Have a fun day. I take time to not charge the student but just hang out for an hour shooting hoops, taking him or her to the lab or watching inspirational videos.


For basic Chem, I always use a tennis ball to describe the atom. Inside are the neutrons and protons, the electrons are the fuzzy part on the outside. Toss the ball around a bit and describe the fuzzy hairs moving in the "wind" as it falls; electrons are like the hairs moving, but they always move. Great for visual learners.
For my Biology class (other sciences will work too) I ask my students what they had for breakfast that morning.  Then I ask what they had for breakfast one week ago.  Then I ask them what they had for breakfast on <insert random date 2+ months ago>.  Our minds don't keep track of such meaningless information; but our bodies do.
I then draw a timeline from 0 to 100.  I say, "let's all assume that we will live to 100" and that gets them in a good mood.  I explain how this is a different way of conceptualizing time.
Then I draw a double helix that dwarfs the 0-100 timeline.  I explain that our DNA is also a timeline; one which started about 3.5 billion years ago.  That's the timeline of being a living, evolving organism.
Then to finish the point, I compare that to number to 14 billion.  This is another way to view our age.  We're all made up of matter that was formed 14 billion years ago during the Big Bang.
It's a fun way to conceptualize drastically big numbers while introducing the reality that after the course, their perception will be altered.  I've had students in the past tell me they gave a lot of thought to that first lecture.  It's a fun seed to plant at the beginning of the semester, which I guarantee will grow as the year progresses.
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