Humour in the classroom

Humour in the classroom. How do we turn haha into AHA? This was my topic for the discussion forums. My first online forum facilitating gig. Lucky for me the topic was humour so it lightened things up a bit.

What is humour – what makes things funny? “humor involves the communication of multiple, incongruous meanings that are amusing in some manner” (Banas et al 2011, p. 117). It has also been defined as being a benign form of violation (see Peter McGraw TedX video link below). It’s basically a kind of communication that elicits a positive response such as laughter, joy or amusement.

Research shows that humour in a lesson can improve recall, build community, reduce stress and boost student learning (Banas et al, 2011). The appropriate use of humour is important. There are different types of humour and some are less appropriate than others, for example, sexually or racially offensive or aggressive humour is not. It was also suggested to avoid sarcasm (although some of my classmates did use it they said), forced or too much humour or culturally inappropriate humour. It is also advisable to use content-related humour.

From my discussion forum, it appears that one of the most frequently used types of humour in the classroom is the self-disparaging kind, where the instructor makes fun of themselves. Classmates also use puns, jokes, funny videos, comic strips, or memes to entertain and educate. It was strongly felt by all that humour, appropriately used and in small amounts, created a positive learning environment, allowing students to relax and feel comfortable. Indeed, scientific studies suggest that laughter activates the brain’s dopamine reward system, thus enhancing motivation and long term retention.

Other resources on humour:

Humber College, The Center for Teaching & Learning Article: Laugh and Learn. Retrieved from:

Stambor, Z., (2006). How laughing leads to learning: Research suggests that humor produces psychological and physiological benefits that help students learn.  American Psychological Association: Monitor on Psychology, 37 (6), p. 62. Retrieved from:

Stambor, Z. (2006). The ‘Ham it up, how to’  Monitor on Psychology, 37: 6. Retrieved from:



Introverts in the classroom

Like Susan Cain in her TED talk, The power of introverts,  I have always considered myself an introvert, or at least on a sliding scale, more introvert-oriented. I need quiet time, I am emotionally and physically drained by large gatherings, big parties, loud people.  I’ve always had one or two close friends and feel uncomfortable in most group situations. At a big party, I’m usually the one in the corner petting the cat or the dog and plotting my escape. I also grew up quite shy and so I have difficulty striking up a conversation with new people, although I have slightly improved on this as I have aged. I am not one for labeling people and I think the introvert/extrovert labels are too narrow. I think introversion/extroversion/ambiversion should be seen along a sliding scale – in essence an orientation or tendency that can also be situational (Van Edwards, 2014).

In our PIDP class discussions we talked about introverts/extroverts and what teaching strategies can be used that can be more inclusive. Our education system now is definitely very much biased towards the extrovert. Current teaching strategies, such as the group work mentioned by Susan tends to really engage the extrovert but often leaves the introvert struggling. It seems obvious that group work, lots of noise and activity will not be the best fit for introverts all the time. It seems equally obvious that quiet, solo or partner work will not be the best fit for extroverts all the time.

I believe that as an instructor, I should be aware of these tendencies to be introverted or extroverted in my students and try to make adjustments to encourage the best possible outcomes for them. One way to deal with this is to give students various options for assignments when possible. In some cases, it may not be possible and group work or presentations may be required. In other cases, individual reflection or research may be required. I think the important thing is to be flexible, allowing options for assignments, such as group presentations, individual research projects, individual papers, digital presentations, role playing, and think-pair-share work. Building in lots of opportunities for breaks and reflection within the classroom is also a good strategy. In regards to learning outcomes, having a learning contract is one way to individualize the course work for students instead of forcing them to participate in an environment that is biased towards the extroverted personality. I also think it’s very important for the instructor to be approachable – encouraging students who are struggling from introversion, shyness, or sensitivity to come to the instructor for help.


What is your personality? Take the Introvert/Extrovert Personality test:


Van Edwards, Vanessa (2014). Are you an ambivert? Retrieved from:

Whole brain teaching

thebrainonwholebrainteachingWhole brain teaching created quite a lot of interest and conversation in our class discussion forums.The general consensus was that it is not a good strategy for adult learners but might be a good pedagogical approach. What is whole brain teaching? It is said to activate both hemispheres of the brain, thus the whole brain. It is hard to explain for me without including a lot of expletives (is it too obvious that I disliked this technique?) so please see the video posted below for a sample.


Some students described it as a full scale assault on the senses. I would have to agree. Here’s the problem with it as I see:  Not all students will be comfortable in such a situation. For example, those along the more introverted scale of the spectrum will find it overloads them. Students who are shy, have self-confidence issues and language issues will also be overwhelmed and quite possibly, terrified. I personally know I would be. The instructor controls the classroom and students respond. It is very much like a military exercise with a drill sergeant barking out orders. Although students pair up and there is supposed to be collaborative learning, they just seem to be talking over one another as far as I can see. Rote learning seems to be the major focus in this type of type of instructional technique, which is not necessarily a bad type of learning but maybe not suitable as an andragogical approach. It does use the psychomotor, affective and cognitive domains, however, in my mind, students have little time to reflect in class and although there appears to be some “forgiveness” for students inability to recall and talk when called upon, students are not given enough time to digest what they are learning. It could work well as an exercise in a flipped classroom though but I’m still not sure I would use it because as an instructor, I would be exhausted after teaching such a class. Additionally, there doesn’t appear to be any scholarly evidence to support this strategy as one that promotes learning.

Reflecting on guided reflections

down-the-rabbit-holeReflective practice is a fundamental piece within the PIDP program – right from the first course all the way to the end. Built into each and every course is an assignment that encourages students to reflect on what they have learned, and how they will use this. It shows an evolving thought process and is good for students and instructor to observe how the students thinking is unfolding.

There are many ways to reflect but the method used in the PIDP program is the focused conversation model which is a written assignment consisting of observation, reflection, interpretation, and decision. I have been struggling with this piece from the beginning and continue to do so.  The observation and reflective are fine, however I really find myself digging when I get into the interpretive portion where I am asked to draw out the meaning, values, significance, implications of the issue I have highlighted. This is where I do what I call “going down the rabbit hole”- I start doing massive research on the internet, in journals, books, wherever. This is where the whole thing goes wrong for me because I spend so much time trying to gathering facts, I lose focus and get lost in my research. This effectively cripples me from moving onto the last step: decision.When I finally do get the interpretive portion done, I am so burned out that I used to just fly through the decision part and don’t really make any decisions – I am unable to elicit a resolution or make a decision about what I will do in the future with this knowledge – how I will use this in my practice. Some criticisms of the reflective practice include: it can be an unscholarly echo chamber; it doesn’t result in better outcomes for students; we can rathionalize all of our flaws such as we’re busy, tired, etc.

I found myself wondering why I have been having such a difficult time with this and if it’s only me who has this issue. Most of the time, these reflections are only worth approximately 5% of the mark so it seemed I was spending way too much time on them. I knew I had to be doing something wrong. My last reflection went much better. I decided I wouldn’t go down the rabbit hole, I would just pick a couple of things (although admittedly this was very difficult for me because I kept hearing someone yell “you’re cherry-picking” in the back of my mind) and I discussed it. It occurred to me this is  not a scientific paper, it is a personal reflection. Although I’m still wrestling with the structure a little, I think I’m starting to get it. It took me 4 classes- it’s about time I say.

Through the online discussion forums in my current class we talked about reflection and in talking with  other students, I have discovered I am not alone. Some are also struggling with this reflective practice and can relate to the rabbit hole analogy. There was general consensus though that it will most likely get easier and it is a good practice. There was encouragement to stick to it and keep going. Within my program, l need all of these reflections at the end to look back upon and reflect on. It’s like a record of my journey, my thought process. Hopefully I will want to read them again!

What I think is important is that my current struggle will help me when I ask students to reflect as well. I am making the connections, I’m examining my thinking at the time and I can see if it has changed, what I found important and if I still think it is, etc. It’s provided a deeper understanding of an issue.

I was reading one of my fellow classmate’s blogs and I laughed at one of her entries entitled: Probably not many people beg to write a paper but I am. This unchartered territory for us of discussion forums, blogs (which are also reflective) are very different from traditional classes with research papers.  Hah, I can relate. Don’t worry Angela, we will get there. Sometimes change is difficult.

Here’s an interesting article I found about reflection strategies:

2 Minute Papers – Video project

After watching this video project on 2 minute papers, I’m pretty interested in finding some more examples of how this has been used as an assessment technique in the classroom. I am intrigued by this- it allows students to summarize what they learned or list one point they learned and to list something that they didn’t understand or feel they need more clarification on. It not only helps the students reflect on what they have learned at the end of the class and what they feel they need to learn more, it also helps the teacher assess the students learning and determine what improvements can be made in future lesson planning. Both pros and cons are listed on the video project. I think one of the biggest cons is the extra work for the teacher in reviewing these but in the long run, it is helpful for lesson planning and ensuring students are getting what they need to have a successful outcome in the class.

Oh, and here is a Web page that talks about a spin on the 2 minute paper – making it the 1 minute paper. This is a slight adaptation to the one in the video project:

This is another variation on the one minute paper with a team approach:


Facilitating an online discussion forum is hard work

nooneknowsyouracatgreenscreenFor the last few days I’ve been given an online discussion forum to facilitate as one of my assignments in my Instructional Strategies class. I have been charged with facilitating the discussion for 10 days. I am just half way there now. I was pre-assigned a topic. Lucky me, I got humour – turning HAHA into AHA. At first I thought this would be an easy topic. Now, I am doubting that. I don’t think any topic is ever easy when you are trying to facilitate. I delved into researching the topic and was ready to post all the resources and links and describe everything I knew about it but then I thought… wait a minute… if I do that then they will have nothing to discuss. I had to rethink this strategy. I decided to start off sort of slow and define what humour was, say how it has been used and then throw out a bunch of questions and post a video. Upon reflection I would do this differently I think. I’m still working on what I would do but I don’t think I would put nearly so many questions down. I would wait and pose them as the discussion unfolds. A good card player never reveals their cards… at least not all at once.

So, this facilitating is quite stressful and it makes me a bit anxious. The first day I initially posted and then the next day I checked in like an expectant father and there was nothing there! I started to panic. Then little by little people started to post things. Meanwhile, the concurrent discussion forums seemed to be exploding like mad. I wondered where I had gone wrong. Was my topic not that interesting, did I not do a very good job of starting off the discussion, were the others more interested in the other topics, were the others burned out from all the discussing?

Eventually there were more postings but I’m still not seeing numbers like other forums. I feel like I’m competing for attention- please, please come to my community and hang around! I have acknowledged fellow students responses. I have posted a few other questions and some resources. I’m now re-thinking what to do to keep the conversation going – I’m only half way through the week and there are more and more discussion forums coming open that I feel like I will be competing against. I need to step up my game and make my community appealing and trendy  maybe :-).  How do I keep students engaged in the topic and most importantly, how do I stay involved and participate in the other forums as well?  I’m now on a hunt to find some more ideas. I have decided not to post any long videos such as Ted talks as they are time consuming for people to watch. Back to the books/blogs/Internet to look for some ideas… hopefully some humorous ones!


Flipped Learning – Video project

flipped-classroom-bloomsSchool work at home and homework at school. This basically sums up the flipped classroom. This technique has largely been driven by the use of technology, allowing students to watch lectures by video from their home prior to coming to class. The instructor takes on the role of facilitator for the classroom component, helping students analyse, apply, synthesize and evaluate class content through activities in class.

In our discussion forums we have been talking about this topic. Some of the cons to this type of instructional strategy that have been noted are: the instructor has to videotape lectures so it is time consuming and challenging; students don’t have an opportunity to ask questions and clarify points during lectures; students and teachers need access to technology and good internet access.

I have never participated in a flipped classroom environment but I think I would like to experience it now that I know what it is. It gives the student control over the timing of their learning and they are responsible for their own learning, it gives them time for reflection and allows them time to prepare for the classroom component.  Check out this video project by one of the previous students in the PIDP 3250 class to understand how it works:

Discussion forums as communities for learning

discussion-forumOne of the things I have discovered in my most recent class on Instructional Strategies is how much I become engaged in topics just by reading other people’s reactions to things on the discussion forums. I am a fairly quiet and introverted type of person. I often feel that if I don’t have anything really original to contribute then I probably should just observe the discussion (does that make me a forum voyeur?) rather than participate. It feels quite emotionally draining to me when I contribute to them. It doesn’t come easy at all!

Two of the discussion areas (double loop thinking and expectancy theory) were very challenging for me and I found that I was reading quite a lot and following a lot of links from the discussion forums in order to try to wrestle with these concepts before I could even make any intelligent contribution. I kept going down the rabbit hole and it was very hard for me to get back up. When I finally did post something on the discussions I felt as if I was on page 1 while everyone else seemed to be on page 3 or 4. I was thankful for the facilitator and other students who I felt came to my aid by encouraging my participation through acknowledgement and providing me with extra resources to facilitate my learning on these topics.

Now that I have been tasked with facilitating one of these discussion forums, I have no choice but to participate more frequently. I am finding this very challenging and am going down the rabbit hole to find more resources to use to help me do this. Luckily, I have some excellent examples from my colleagues on how they have facilitated/moderated these forums. It is truly a community for learning. Wish me luck!

Goal Setting – Digital project

I encourage you to look at my fellow student, Alisha’s digital project on Goal Setting as a way to engage adult learners. How does goal setting work?:

  • it provides a framework for measuring progress
  • it gives the teacher insight into the learning needs of the student
  • goals can be set prior to or during learning
  • goals can specific for a project, an objective or a personal needs

What is a goal? It’s SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Based.

Alisha outlines the educators role and the learner’s role, individual goals, group goals as well as the pros and cons of goal setting as a strategy. She lists 5 goal setting techniques, ranging from a personalized learning plan to choice boards. Her project provides a great introduction to goal setting and provides some good resources for further research on the topic. You can find her digital project here:

Double Loop Thinking – the Neanderthal Problem

Double Loop thinking was a topic we focused on in our PIDP 3250 discussion forum recently. I had a lot of trouble trying to figure out what was meant by this, to really feel comfortable explaining it. What helped me was understanding what Single Loop thinking means first. Single loop means learning for the first time and mastering the skill. It is more of a “how” process than a “why” process, which bring me to Double Loop thinking. Double loop thinking is when you  take previously learned information and learn it again differently. Double loop thinking occurs after using feedback or reflection from past actions. This is where the “why” part comes in when the learner begins to question their current views.
In many of the classes I taught as a teaching assistant in archaeology and anthropology in the 1990s, I found that most students would just give you the answer they thought you wanted to hear. It would have been easy to just go ahead and grade them and let them go on with their degrees and for a while I did this but then I started to realize that we were in an endless feedback loop with students just perpetuating the same ideas and not ever questioning why we anthropologists thought this way or why archaeologists did it this way. There were some exceptions to this but for the most part, everyone was so complacent. This is because they were single loop thinking. They were asked to read something and then understand and regurgitate, which they did quite efficiently.

One of the things I hoped to do was get them to question why we believed what we did and look at the actual assumptions behind it. For example, when I was in graduate school, it was fairly common belief that Neanderthals were just oafs that died off because they were unable to adapt to changing climate, were not very good at inventing new tools, not very social, not artistic, had no language. There were a few other graduate students who were challenging these ideas with their research but in general those students were considered a bit out there. Neanderthals were seen as an evolutionary dead end because they co-existed with humans for a few thousand years and yet, since they are not among us today  they were seen as unsuccessful. The textbooks and popular magazines conveyed and these ideas about Neanderthals and the writing in student’s research papers just reiterated and reinforced these existing beliefs. Being called a Neanderthal is still seen as a negative thing, despite the fact that DNA evidence now shows otherwise.  As a teaching assistant in university I used to ask students to do what I though was merely  “deconstructing” some of these ideas – asking them to look for actual evidence and facts for the information that was being conveyed about Neanderthals. I would assign articles where Neanderthals were portrayed in a poor light and asked them how they felt about Neanderthals after reading it. As expected, they would just regurgitate the same thing that we see floating around about Neanderthals being a dumb species. I began to ask them more about what evidence the writer had given to support his or her own views in the article – “why” they knew what they knew. It was in this activity that I saw many of the students get their “aha” moments and started questioning the basis for the assumptions.  When students started to look more carefully at the evidence the writers presented in these articles, it was clear that, in fact, there  was very little basis for the writers arguments: Neanderthal sites were scarce providing very little fossil evidence to base an entire species behaviour on. They began to question how we know anything about an entire species that lived quite successfully for several hundred thousand years under harsh ice age conditions based on what was in the fossil record at that time. Perhaps the lack of evidence was important. Perhaps there was some bias happening.

Since that time, we now know a little more about Neanderthals because of new archaeological finds and DNA sequencing. It turns out Neanderthals were actually more like our cousins, not a failed species. Neanderthal DNA is found in modern humans. Archaeological evidence now tells us they made art and buried their dead, had ritual, more than likely were able to speak and communicate and were not the primitive oafs many once made them out to be. It now occurs to me rather than asking the students to deconstruct the paradigm of Neanderthals, I was, in fact, asking them to develop some double loop thinking skills in their anthropology class.