If you follow me on twitter, you know I am a huge fan of NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast. A while back, I was listening to some old episodes I had missed. I discovered a series they did called You 2.0, where each episode discusses research that could help improve our day-to-day lives. The series covered a variety of topics, but one in particular made me reflect on my teaching practices.
In the episode You 2.0: Embrace the Chaos, the host Shankar Vedantam talks with Tim Harford about his book Messy, and the possible benefits of letting our lives be a little chaotic. In their conversation, they talk about Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Unknown to me, this infamous speech was relatively unmoving, until King ditched his notes. Noticing that the audience wasn’t as engaged, he went off script and moved the audience with the speech we all know today. When King embraced the chaos, he created something passionate and inspirational that influenced the nation.
While my lectures pale in comparison to King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the story resonated with me. When teaching dry subjects like Statistical Methods, it can be hard to “move the audience”. But I have found that some of my most engaging lectures are when I ditch the PowerPoint slides and talk directly to the class.
For my first lecture (ever!) in stats, the projector was broken. I was left with a classroom full of students, material that needed to be covered, and no PowerPoint to hide behind. Instead, I used the chalkboard and handout I had made for the day, and lectured to the students that way. While slightly chaotic (and incredibly stressful), it got my students engaged with the material and talking amongst one another.
While off-the-wall questions or “soapbox moments” can de-rail lectures, it doesn’t necessarily take away from the material. These tangents can often create an engaging atmosphere for discussion. It takes students focus off of the PowerPoint slides, and gets them thinking about the real concepts at hand. While it may make lectures a little less organized, this chaos may be what you need to give that would-be boring lecture a jolt of energy. Plus, the chaos in teaching often can’t be avoided… so why not embrace it?
Written by Karly Schleicher