Clever Clip

We love this video because it captures the “Big Six” elements of pleasure in learning that we have identified.  Watch it once just for fun; then watch again to see how many of these you can identify: sensory pleasure, surprise, humor, achievable challenge, belonging to a group, and owning something of value.

If the folks at BYU can use all of those elements in 55 seconds, you can probably do it in your classes, too.  We want to visit the Howard B. Lee library in Provo, Utah!

Arrows, Tiaras, and the Pest of 6

“How many words are in the average person’s vocabulary, regardless of language?”  So reads my typical first-day-of-class bellringer. The question is really my students’ first group-building exercise, since each lab table answers as a team.  The class’s leaders and shrinking violets reveal themselves as I watch the deliberations.  We continue with a discussion of the importance of precision in anatomic language, especially for those who hope to be healthcare providers…virtually all of the students. This cartoon always gets a chuckle:

Thanks to bztoons!

For many of us, the very word “vocabulary” has some negative connotations…I remember spending absurd amounts of time in my third-grade class assembling tiny, sticky letter card words on my desktop…sheer drudgery.  A&P has so many words, a lot of them hard to pronounce and harder to spell.  How can we leverage some pleasure here? First, a bit of humor with more team-building. I ask students, “What do you call your smallest finger?  The place you were plugged into your mom? The place where the urine comes out?”  Then I ask them to picture using those words in a medical chart.  Point made.

Many students are unfamiliar with the word “mnemonic,” but most know how many days are in September and when “Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” I explain that they are joining a club that uses a host of time-honored mnemonics, and I direct them to some websites where these can be found.  The “pest of 6” in this entry’s title helps us remember that there are 6 different bones that form the cranium of the skull: parietal, ethmoid, sphenoid, temporal, occipital, and frontal.  The parietal and temporal are paired, for a total of 8 bones.  The first day’s memory work can be done in five minutes!

I use a different technique to teach the sutures, or joints, that connect those bones.  “Sagittal” is a new word for most students. (Altogether now! One G, two T’s!)  Since, sadly, no one studies Latin anymore, the connection with “arrow” is lost.  But many students do know their astrological sign, so I show an image of Sagittarius, the archer, and another picture of William Tell shooting the apple from  his son’s head.  Picture the path of that arrow, and you know where the sagittal suture lies.

The coronal suture, which runs across the top of the head from ear to ear, calls for a more literal visual.  While many students know more about Corona cigars than coronal sutures, most have heard of a coronation.  The idea of a crown doesn’t quite get us home, because most of us picture a crown like the one worn by the recently retired Burger King.  To remind the class that in ancient times a crown was more like our tiaras, I don another dollar store find….actually they are 3 for a dollar.  Not long ago I received an email  that illustrates the value of the demo.  A former student, now enrolled in a physician assistant program, wrote to tell me that she was the only member of her class who identified the coronal suture “because I remembered your tiara.”  She went on to say that her new classmates seemed envious of her vocabulary…words to warm a teacher’s cold heart.

With just a little effort, I can help my students increase their vocabularies by engaging their senses, adding a bit of humor, helping them to feel part of a group, pulling out a few surprises, making the challenge achievable, and showing them the value of what they’re learning.

Oh, and the answer to that bellringer?  Find it by clicking this story at BBC News, which coincidentally features an example of a Wordle, yesterday’s Cool Tool.


Cool Tool of the Week

During our New Horizons presentation, Anne Stahl mentioned the “IKEA Effect” as part of her discussion of owning something of value as a source of pleasure.  We seem to value things more when we have participated in their construction.  For teachers and students alike, Wordle™ offers an opportunity to build a beautiful word cloud using terms from a particular discipline or topic.  I use a Wordle™ for the banner on my BlackBoard site:

Making a Wordle™ might be used to help students identify the most important topics in a lesson while adding related words in smaller fonts.  For those of us with limited artistic abilities, Wordle lets us make something beautiful and fuctional.

“So Much Depends on a Red Wheelbarrow”: an Interview with Dr. Kristin Wilson

We had the pleasure of spending some time with Dr. Kristin Wilson earlier this week, chatting with her about aspects of pleasure that she has used in teaching her classes in composition and literature.  It seemed that no matter where the discussion roamed, we kept circling back to poetry.  Here are some excerpts:

pleasureteam: How did you help your students to feel a part of the group?

KW: There’s this poem, “My Papa’s Waltz“, and you can either read the poem as a father abusing his young child, or as a father dancing with his young child. We would read it silently, and then they would write to some little prompts on a piece of paper.  Then they would pass and read everybody’s prompts….nobody could talk yet.  People would be quite surprised, either way, whichever way they read it, that the others read it the other way.  Then they would discuss the poetry, the way they read it.

pleasureteam: What about sensory pleasure? Because you don’t teach a hands-on kind of class? You can’t touch it, taste it, smell it?

KW: No, but when you teach writing, especially, you always say ‘sight, touch, sound, taste, smell.’ So whatever you’re writing, you want to engage the senses.  Even if you’re writing an argumentation paper, you want to be thinking about the senses. If you’re writing an essay, how much better is it if you engage the senses?  In my poetry class, there’s a museum in downtown St. Louis, City Museum, where all the exhibits are made of trash.  We would visit that museum, and we would find places where people would sit and take a look at what’s there….it’s almost like a kids’ jungle gym.  The poetry students would go out there and write poems based on what they saw.  It was surprising what they came up with, based on what they saw.

pleasureteam: You said that they were surprised about what other members saw in “Papa’s Waltz.”  Do they find anything surprising about your teaching style?  For instance, some people have a bias against poetry.

KW: If you’re teaching a literature class, people always have biases against poetry.  Some people think all poetry should rhyme.  But what they’re most convinced of is that they won’t like it.  So at the end of the semester if you can convince them that they actually do like poetry, well, you’ve done your job. (Laughs.)

pleasureteam:  The surprise is often that they like what you’re serving.

KW: We think that it’s about acquiring knowledge or comprehension or something like that.  But really the whole work of education is convincing people about things…being persuasive. The other thing that they’re often surprised about in literature is how complex it is.  Some students, especially in an introductory lit course, have just never read anything very complex.  So if you read an extended metaphor, they’re just surprised about how complex language can be…even language that they’re familiar with, like the lyrics to a song.  They’re surprised how complex those lyrics are, because they’ve never really analyzed or thought about them.

When I taught composition class, which was my bread-and-butter class for years, I would tell the students to write about something they need to write about.  What is it you need to write about, you need to capture this for all time? Lots of people who didn’t think they could write were surprised when they wrote something really well, when they wrote what they were thinking or believing.

pleasureteam: How do you persuade your students that what they are learning is valuable?

KW: In the lit classes, they always come in thinking it’s not valuable. For literature, in particular, they have to see themselves in a character. As soon as they find a character that they can identify with, it’s all over…you’ve got ’em hooked.

pleasureteam: In a typical community college class, where we have such a diverse population, how do you choose something that appeals to everyone?

KW: Lots of people would disagree with me…LOTS of people…but I think it’s poetry.  Poetry is little tiny ideas that everybody feels.  So “so much depends upon a red wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater, beside the white chickens.” So then everybody says, “I don’t know what that means.”

And then you get underneath it, and you start talking about it, and you talk about William Carlos Williams approach to poetry, which is “no ideas but in things, no ideas but in things.”  And it starts to resonate  for absolutely everyone, that approach to poetry, and they focus on the red wheelbarrow…’Can you see the red wheelbarrow? Can you see the white chickens?’

So I use poetry in developmental reading really quite a lot because I think it brings people together. I love teaching developmental reading…I don’t get to do it much anymore…but I always bring in lyrics, usually one country music song and one rap, different genres, so you get everybody.

pleasureteam: So what kind of value is it? Is it the value of understanding, or the value of seeing themselves as part of mankind with a capital “M”? What is the value that they take away from that experience?

KW: I think it’s seeing the self in language that’s produced by other. So then language takes on significance because I can find myself in this other language, and you just complicate the language.  And the very act of reading, even if you’re sitting alone, becomes a community act.

pleasureteam note: Dr. Wilson is Chief Academic Officer at Hopkinsville Community College. Our conversation with her touched on several other aspects of pleasure in learning which will be featured in a later post.

Click here to see:  William Carlos Williams reads “The Red Wheelbarrow.”

Image of wheelbarrows By Jared and Corin (originally posted to Flickr as 2001080355_G) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Super Site of the Week

While Teacher’s Domain: Digital Media for the Classroom and Professional Development targets K-12 instruction, it features many resources appropriate for the college classroom with little or no modification.  The site includes resources from Nova, Nature, and a host of other broadcast organizations. From their homepage:

Teachers’ Domain is a free digital media service for educational use from public broadcasting and its partners. You’ll find thousands of media resources, support materials, and tools for classroom lessons, individualized learning programs, and teacher professional learning communities.”

A happy place for browsing, to be sure.  For example,  Some Genes are Dominant would fit nicely into my A&P class, while a developmental writing colleague might use Baseball and Social Change: The Story of Roberto Clemente. The “Data Collection and Analysis” section of the mathematics section has 40 separate resources.

I never want to pass up a great resource just because the label doesn’t say “college.”

Actually, It Was Miss Scarlet With the Candlestick In Psychology Class!

Sometimes getting students to be enthusiastic about understanding all of the concepts surrounding personality theory can be a challenge. However, with the use of various games, they attack it as an achievable challenge! Textbook explanations are typically very dry, unexciting and filled with uninterpretable jargon.

The Six Suspects, 1963.

Now, what do you do to get the information across? Do you have a CLUE? That’s what I have done in my class – used a takeoff on the board game CLUE. The minute that a game (pleasure) is mentioned along with competition (challenge) – interest is piqued! You have immediately created a task that students find fun, and who isn’t up for a challenge?

The class is divided into groups of equal number (as equal as possible) and rules are laid out. Each group is asked to develop a profile of each of the characters in the game CLUE.

In doing this they are to look for meanings of colors associated with each person, the manner of their dress, and the type of character associated with their social backgrounds. All of these things are tied together to get a personality profile. Based on these pieces of information, each group comes up with their version of “who done it”.

What is accomplished here? The students get an understanding of personality theory by using research skills, they see how the  information is valuable in helping to make their decision, and they understand how all of the elements are useful in putting the puzzle together. Group cohesiveness is another byproduct. In working together, the groupbecomes very dependent on each other to get the job done.

The Big Six, 1988.

The game concludes with each group presenting their findings. The groups vote on which has done the best job in explaining which character is the guilty person (they are not allowed to vote for their own group).

The winning group is rewarded for their efforts in the form of bonus points. To create the element of surprise and fun in the bonus points, I sort of do a takeoff on the show, Let’s Make a Deal.  The winners are given 5 bonus points which they can trade for a chance to increase or decrease the number by selecting one of three Mystery Envelopes!

I hope your class sleuths will become equally motivated to apprehend the guilty person. You may also find it pleasantly surprising to see just how much skill they will show in interpreting and understanding personality theory.

You know, it could have been Mr. Green with the revolver!!

Have FUN with this one!      – Anne

pleasureteam note: For some wonderful information about the history of Clue (or Cluedo, as the Brits know it), visit The Great Idea Finder.

Cool Tool of the Week

If you’re looking for ways to make your coursework an achievable challenge, try EclipseCrossword at  This cool tool allows you to construct, print, and save a personalized crossword puzzle on any topic you choose.  My students seem to enjoy the puzzles most when they contain clues with the words and phrases that I have used in class to “de-prissify” some of the tongue-twisters of anatomy and physiology. Tip: Give your puzzle a catchy title.