Teaching and Learning Forum 97 [ Contents ]

Laurel and Hardy and crosswords: Teaching as fun

Bill Scott and Ross Lantzke
Division of Environmental Sciences
Murdoch University


Scene 1

We are presenting terminology in groundwater hydrology. A new video by the Water Authority presents most of the terms in a 'TV dramatisation'. This ends with "We can do without our cars, our videos and even our chocolate bars (Yum). But we cannot do without water." Then Bill Scott starts to define groundwater and hesitates. "Let's have a crossword." Ross and Bill pass out the crosswords, one for every two students, first asking them to turn, shake hands and say Hello.

Bill stands up front and asks the audience, "Does anyone know one of the answers? "3 Across, isn't it porosity?" Bill says, "Yes, the ratio of pore volume to the total soil volume." Ross at the overhead fills in the letters; but mistakes are made, to be picked up by students. In the end Ross gives himself 10/10 - but the students highlight mistakes - Ross marks himself down. We BUMBLE through it - but they love it and learn.

Scene 2

It is a prelab, the first one. We need to emphasize lab coats, calculators, covered shoes, notes, etc. All the tutors come in deliberately unprepared.
Ross asks: "Who is the odd one out?"
Answer: "Bill has no hair."
Ross: "Less important than that."
Answer: "Jennifer is the only girl."
Ross: "Too easy."
Answer (finally): "Only Bill has no calculator."
Ross: "Got it! Bring your calculators to lab. Bill would be turned away and/or do poorly in the lab."
Ross: "Odd one out?" Repeated until lab coats, shoes and notes are also discovered. One of 'object' lessons.

Scene 3

Bill Scott is, again, briefing students. Smaller group, quite attentive for the first half hour when he talked about murders and cooling bodies. Now, all has gone silent and some deep breathing is underway.
Bill: "pH is a measure of acidity."
Ross: "Don't you believe him. He is not always right. Why is it a measure of acidity?"
Bill: "Can't be sure now, but what do you (students) think?"
Answer: "It is between 1 and 14. 14 is the most basic. Why, then, is pH a measure of acidity?"
Bill: "All is coming clear. I would have been better to say pH is a measure of basicity. It really is the power of 10 (made positive since it is almost always a negative number) of the concentration of the hydrogen 'ion'."

Complete Silence.

Ross: "Academic verbosity. What is it really?"

(Most students are feeling this way. But they are not asleep; some are a little angry because they are 'not getting the answers'.)

Bill: "Put it this way. A solution can have ions - bits dissolved in it that are charged. The solutions we talk about, especially the 'neutral' ones, may have few of these, but the positive and negative charges must balance. For instance, in pure water

Hydrogen and hydroxide ion concentrations in water

and, since the gram molecular weight of hydrogen is one and there are 1000 grams of water in a litre, the concentration of hydrogen ions is

Concentration of hydrogen ions in water

Is it clear that there is almost nothing in the water and that, as the amount increases, the large number in the denominator actually decreases? Etc."

Here, at least we waked them up for another 10-minute run. It also should impress them to question their mentors and that things are not certain. They should be critical and 'know' that hydrogen ion concentrations are very small and that pH runs from small values in a concentrated acid solution to large values in an alkaline solution.

Alternatively, they may be simply confused.

What are we aiming to achieve?

We see the classroom as a three-way colloquy (see diagram). LECTURER A carries on as usual, unless interrupted. LECTURER B may then act as a 'stooge' or 'kibitzer'; the 'dialogue' develops and leads to a learning environment. Reflection is the aim -- by both student and staff -- to enhance the process of inquiry. The questions come from the perspective of the student and may hit at the very nature of science -- both its methods and results. Content is not just accepted as 'truth' and memorised. Interaction skills are enhanced and questioning is promoted. Of course the student gains a desire to learn and inquire. If nothing else, it breaks up an otherwise boring monologue.

Diagram of a 'Slapstick' Team Colloquy

Diagram of a 'Slapstick' Team Colloquy

Team Teaching

This is a complimentary approach with team teaching and, of course, requires much commitment and time. The teaching pair need to know each other; they must not be in competition, but in friendly collaboration; a few smiles are helpful. The content is dissected to show the process or maybe to reveal that lecturers don't always get it fight. The main lecturer (LECTURER A) prepares a content-based lecture, with a classical presentation. All the time he/she is aware and responsive, while the presentation is facilitated by the associate lecturer (LECTURER B). The associate lecturer challenges the main lecturer; searches for an awareness of the processes behind the content/words, and helps the students and the lecturer respond, but stands (sits up-front) with the students. The main lecturer is stimulated with alternatives and helped in moments of lapses - two minds are better than one.

In addition the associate lecturer requires clarity of the main lecturer with responses like "What do you mean?" or "Is that what is called -?". Questions are classified, clarified and repeated as they come from the audience or the main lecturer; the associate lecturer makes sure all questions are dealt with.

The students hear the content, learn to question, see a varied environment, appreciate the humour and get breaks in a dry presentation. Indeed, the whole crowd can enjoy the learning process; the teachers can enjoy the situation and present a vibrant, enthusiastic picture which the student can take home and into life.

Please cite as: Scott, W. and Lantzke, R. (1997). Laurel and Hardy and crosswords: Teaching as fun. In Pospisil, R. and Willcoxson, L. (Eds), Learning Through Teaching, p290-293. Proceedings of the 6th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Murdoch University, February 1997. Perth: Murdoch University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1997/scott1.html


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