Two-time Super Bowl champ Peyton Manning can throw a football, and he’s also quite the salesman. His ads for Nationwide Insurance have spawned a running gag at our house, where my dear husband might hear the Nationwide tune as:”Thought that trash was going out” or “Don’t forget to pick up milk.” We also offer compliments: “You’re sure looking sharp today.” Or questions: “Do you want to walk the dog?”
All in good fun, but I wondered if I could harness the power of the earworm in the service of learning. Last week my students tackled the respiratory system, and they needed to get a grip on three gas laws: Boyle’s, Dalton’s, and Henry’s. Experience has shown me that as soon as they see a simple equation like P1V1 = P2V2, they just tune out. I’ve tried blowing up balloons and pumping up bike tires, but nothing seems to consistently help them to grasp that Boyle’s law states that pressure and volume of a gas are inversely proportional. (Really, who wouldn’t find that just fascinating?) Yet I know that they are going to encounter that little factoid on admission and licensing exams. The people who make those nasty tests love that stuff…they just do.
And so I dreamed up a few Nationwide ditties for our class, including “Pressure/volume is Boyle’s Law.” I added some others for the other two laws, as well as a few other need-to-knows about breathing. Suppressing my stage fright, I yodeled a couple of these in class. To my surprise and delight, the students scribbled down my lyrics and came up with some others that were better than mine. Pleasure in learning in action.
But the proof is in the pudding. On the next quiz, I asked which gas law describes the inversely proportional relationship between pressure and volume…fill-in-the-blank, not multiple choice. Typically, about half my students respond appropriately. This time, every single student answered the question correctly. Boo-rah!
Obviously, this won’t work for every challenging bit of content. But for tricky groups of similar items that need to be distinguished from one another, it seems to work. Office mate Anne teaches her psychology students about a variety of learning theories, and students tend to confuse them. She came up with “Piaget is peek-a-boo” to help students remember Piaget’s ideas about children’s acquisition of the idea of object permanence. Maybe your class has a spot for this trick. After all (altogether now!):
“Learning works best when it’s fun.”