Nervous Laughter

Does your curriculum include a topic that makes students uncomfortable…a subject that intimidates because it’s difficult or disgusting or just something nice people don’t talk about? (Yes, there are still a few of those topics left in the world.)  Students quickly realize when other class members are uncomfortable and, even worse, when the instructor is hesitant to address that discomfort.  Humor is a handy tool to have in your box when confronting potentially awkward moments.

If, like me, you feel less than gifted in the humor department, you can always “borrow” something funny.  If it comes from an unfamiliar or unexpected source, so much the better.  In fact, scientists who study humor…yes, someone has figured out a way to get paid to do that…have found that surprise is a foundational aspect of humor and that it has evolutionary importance in helping us to learn.  Seriously.  Click here to read Alastair Clarke’s take on the subject at Science Daily.

In my anatomy & physiology classes, two topics regularly evoke palpable discomfort.  I thought I’d share a couple of videos that help us relax a bit.  As my students prepare to disassemble a Norway rat on the day of our first dissection, I usually hear a lot of discussion about fear of rats (technically “musophobia”), inability to tolerate the smell of preservative, etc. After I deliver some stern words about lab safety and have divided the students into groups, I show this video while I put the finishing touches on our lab setup:

The young adults in my class think that they are cool with talking about sex…until we actually reach the chapter on reproduction. I appeal to them never to tell my mother that I know all those reproductive words, much less say them in public, and we talk briefly about the many ways that reproductive biology impacts our society, our culture, and our own behaviors.  I enjoy foreign ads and think many of them are wittier than our own, so I often show this one:

Videos can also be a great way to insert a breather into a long and challenging stretch of material.  I’ll introduce you to some of my favorite “rest stops” in a later post.
—Karen

Have you found a way to help students feel more comfortable with uncomfortable topics?  Do you have favorite videos you show as “relaxers” or “breathers”?  Please share!

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