Podcast Episode 22: Fearless Experimentation in the Classroom With Gerald Jaynes

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Gerald Jaynes, Professor of Economics and African American Studies, has been teaching fearlessly at Yale for more than 30 years. He currently teaches popular courses in the Economics of Discrimination, Poverty under Postindustrial Capitalism, and Social Science of the Black Community, and is always experimenting with new ideas in the classroom.

Among many other things, we talk about the time he held an end-of-semester review session on the radio, the time he created and played an online banking game with 350 undergrads, and his recent experience teaching math to high school students using the Madden Football video game.

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Show Notes

0:00 Intro

0:38 Introducing Gerald Jaynes, Professor of Economics and African American Studies at Yale

1:29 Why use Madden Football to teach math to high school students?

3:20 Inspired by a nephew having trouble with math in school but who excelled at video games (“There’s a lot of overlap between parenting and teaching”)

6:50 Inspired by a graduate classroom discussion of how to help struggling students in poor urban schools

7:50 Doing survey research at the barber shop to learn what video games are popular among African-American teenagers

8:35 Actually designing a math course around Madden Football

9:50 Convincing 15 year-olds with weak math skills to work on what they think is “baby math” by putting it in football terms

11:17 Many so-called “weak” students have experience thinking strategically and are ready to learn game theory

14:30 A general teaching principle: Pose substantive interesting problems to motivate the learning of technical methods

16:00 Piloting the Madden Football Math Course at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School

17:50 Its’ important to recognize individual student skill levels and customize your teaching to them; Dealing with a “high variance” classroom is tough

18:50 Engaging individual students while teaching Introductory Macroeconomics to 350 college students

20:30 Making sure the bottom 40% understand the material even if it means you aren’t pushing the top 10% as much as you could

21:50 Incorporating gamification into the Madden Math course

24:13 Creating and playing a banking game in Intro Macro

33:45 Holding an end-of-semester review session on the radio in the early 1980’s to give students anonymity when asking questions

37:30 When you don’t have a blackboard, you have to answer questions very clearly

38:40 Creating a new class on urban inequality and urban education. Teaching an undergraduate class is a great way to explore a new research area.

42:10 Giving undergraduate students practical experience by putting them to work in the community

43:50 One more ambitious idea that might not have worked but for an improvised pivot at the last moment: an in-class debate on affirmative action