Thursday, April 19, 2012

Meta-Auto Mechanics to Quantum Mechanics

Michael Schmidt asks,

"In the context of your classroom, what is the significance of Auto Mechanics to Quantum Mechanics? What is the intended significance, and have you found there to be unintended consequences?"
It does three things for me in terms of establishing classroom culture. First, it gets students talking immediately. If a precedent is established from the first moments that you do the talking, they won't talk, even if asked or invited. By getting them to talk right off the bat, the participation rate jumps markedly. It shows that we are not slaves to the syllabus, but here to be interesting and that they have to drive not just get pulled.

Second, it creates an atmosphere of play. Students quickly learn that when I say "ANY questions" I mean ANY questions and they get goofy quickly which I make sure to acknowledge with further goofiness, but also to show how there is smart hidden within the goofy. This makes reticent students more relaxed and willing to ask questions they might worry are stupid, assured that if I took the earlier, clearly stupid question and turned it into something smart, then I would do the same with theirs.

Finally, it functions like an inside joke, it makes the class into a community because we have a common ritual. I regularly have former students, even ones who come back a decade later, say how much they wish they had the "auto mechanics to quantum mechanics" as a regular part of their lives. People enjoy it and it becomes something we as a group share. They'll often come to me with disagreements from the dorms the night before where they'll say, "as we were arguing, we decided that we should ask you today." It becomes a part of our collective culture.

And I enjoy it and it's my classroom, so I'll do as I darn well please.