Quite often our students seem to forget that we who are the faculty are also real people. Sad to say, I’ve seen some faculty who don’t do much to fight this belief. While one of the things that makes a good teacher is a knowledge and passion for their subject material, it doesn’t do much good if that can’t be transferred to the students.
In my classes, I am always looking for pop culture, current events, or other timely references that I can make to the material. I’ve found that when I can relate to the students, they are more likely to remain alert and pay attention…which is needed for better comprehension. The popularity of YouTube makes this very easy. One of the areas I like to connect with students is with the shows they are watching (or have watched) on TV.
I’ve been able to use clips from “The Big Bang Theory” to explain concepts from statistics (the normal curve) and college algebra (falling objects).
The popular TV show “Pawn Stars”can be used when covering the concept of C-14 dating. I could just give them a generic problem based on abstract numbers or simply a bone, but when you turn it into a possible historical artifact and turn it into a potential episode of “Pawn Stars” then we can safely side-track into talking about the show instead of just the course material.
This deviation allows for instilling some freshness into the class while not sacrificing covering the material.
I’ve also based a series of assignments in my college algebra class around the classic Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons. Since many of the cartoons involve Wile E. Coyote using a variety of methods (mostly using projectiles and roller-coaster style vehicles through the mountains), I have created a series of assignments where I make the students “possible story-writers” for cartoons. They have to design their own cartoons and appropriately have them mathematically accurate for the producers to choose from. I’ve found that since the theme of the assignment is writing a cartoon, the students have more of an interest in doing the work.
Whatever your field, I encourage you to pay attention to the “fun” things that you like to do when you are not strictly teaching. You’d be surprised to find out how many things you will encounter in these activities that can relate to your field. The students might look at you as a little goofy for thinking “academically” while you are supposed to be having fun, but they will appreciate the attempt at trying to relate to them outside of the dry traditional lecture format.