“Show me, don’t tell me!”, the English professor cried at us for the 15th time that week. It was frustrating, really. How does one show a dog walking with its owner? If I thought that was hard, then showing the various aspects of my own research would be a challenge.
Fast forward to several years later, and I’m standing in front of a classroom, telling a room full of bored 4th graders about pH. Oh, the glassy-eyed stares and yawns that greeted me. Suddenly, out of no where, I had the idea to “show and tell” science. Knowing I’d be back the next day, and pH was on the syllabus again, I came up with a haphazard plan. Thankfully, end of period bell rang and the charade of them learning and me teaching was over for the day.
That afternoon, I was able to frantically search the school, looking for things to show pH. Cabbage juice pH meters, pH paper, various assorted acidic and basic items that needed to be tested, and even a dusty electric pH meter hidden in the corner. I set these up, then called a theatre friend of mine. It was time to put on a show.
The next day, the students came into class, wary of how utterly bored they’d be to find something different. I was in a circus leader costume, complete with top hat and an umbrella cane, surrounded by chemistry apparatuses, the cabbage juice, and a few select things that I was going to demonstrate as part of the “show.” The rest of the items to be tested were on the student’s desks.
Without warning, as the beginning bell rang, I launched into a show befitting any snake oil salesman. I did my best to dazzle them with the science of pH, then inviting them to challenge me. It took the help of an enlisted teacher down the hall to really get them into the challenging and questioning aspect of it, but once they were, there was no stopping them until the bell rang.
The moral of this story is that demonstrating and marketing science worked. The audience became more lively, involved, and curious. Unfortunately, they also became more demanding as time passed ─ both within the hour and throughout the day as word spread. Every time we were able to demonstrate an aspect of science that got the students involved, they learned more, retained more information, got good grades, but best of all, they were able to apply the concepts further.
Image: Flickr, Paul Downey