Three Really Cool and Creative Teaching Ideas

Over the past few weeks I’ve had three colleagues share some terrific creative things they’ve done in their classes. One had their students play a game, one had their students make a movie, and one hosted a radio call-in show.

1. Gamification

I’m ambivalent about introducing competitive games in the classroom. I want my students cooperating and helping each other learn for the sake of learning. On the other hand, I think students are more open to new ideas when they are having fun. Last Friday I heard statistics professor Jay Emerson talk in the Yale Teaching Forum about a very successful game he ran in his classroom.

His students started in groups of 6-8 seated around tables in our fancy Technology Enabled Active Learning classroom (TEAL). Each group got a data set where the observations were mines, their characteristics, and whether there had been an accident at the mine in the past year. The groups used the data to estimate models that predicted, based on the mines’ characteristics, whether the mine had had an accident. The groups then submitted their models to Jay’s server where they were automatically evaluated based on some mine data they had not seen. Jay displayed a live leaderboard all over the classroom, and groups could modify and resubmit their predictors. I read somewhere that the best learning happens when students are excited, working together, and getting rapid and frequent feedback. Check, check, and check!

2. Metamorphosis

Theresa Schenker from the German department presented in the same session where I heard Jay speak. She shared an amazing array of projects her students did in her introductory German classes. All of them involved creating something from German sources (e.g., web sites), and most of them were carried out in the classroom where the students had to work together while speaking German. My favorite project was one where she had her students make movie versions of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. The clips she showed were much more compelling than seeing students talk about the weather or their favorite zoo animals.

3. Radio Gerry Jaynes

In the fall, I used the Piazza online discussion forums to answer questions from students during the semester. It was a nice complement to office hours because they could ask their questions anonymously from whereever they happened to be, and everyone could benefit from the answers. Twenty years ago, Gerry Jaynes solved this problem with a radio show. He taught Introductory Macroeconomics and students would call in with questions in the evenings before exams. This set up had the live personal touch of office hours with most of the advantages of online discussion forums.