Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Education and Humor

Humor fosters analytic, critical, and divergent thinking. 

I utilized the above image to introduce a 4000 year old romp through ancient history. Not only did the image catch the kids' attention, but the humor I wove into the lessons helped them retain and extract more value from what they were learning. 

Humor is a great stress reliever that builds rapport between students. By the end of this unit not only were my students more engaged and eager for additional material, but they continued discussing the unit (and the material) as if it had been more of an event than an exercise. 

Introducing the unit with the song: Walk Like an Egyptian minimized the idea that we had a lot to learn and transferred it to a place of exploration. 

From that point forward, there was an "air of cooperation", a kind of team spirit I hand't quite expected. Students took more risks, were more involved, and eagerly sought out information that normally I would have had to convince them to consider ("Remember, this test is worth 10% of your grade). I had no idea when I started that the "Egyptian jokes" I scribbled down on Sticky Notes the night before and shoved into my pockets (as tension relief) would prove so effective. 

"There's no doorbell on this Naos, what do you suppose the priests did? Simply shout to the others, Toot-n-Come-n, when they came to open the temple?

"That mummy looks pretty tense. 
No wonder he's all wound up."

"Now, this was a society that could keep secrets. Literally, they kept everything under wraps."

Even shy students got in on the game. Telling a few jokes of their own for the group. "Did you hear the one about the angry mummy? He flipped his lid" and "What do you get in a 5-star pyramid? A tomb with a view." 

While the above comic was simply intended to be funny, it stirred an interesting debate on how the social networking sites on the Internet have illuminated ancient behavioral tendencies. My tech-minded student had this to say:

"When people tell jokes, they have to make associations between the Internet and something else everybody's heard of...like cave drawings or writing on temples and tombs. Twitter is like the modern-day temple where people leave messages for others to read and think about."

The whole purpose of learning is to encourage quality thinking. While some teachers might consider this concept "off-topic", I encourage thinking and free association, it's from this activity that many famous contributors throughout history associate their greatest ideas. 

Had it not been for the jokes, this comment might not have otherwise arisen. In this respect, the diversity of though humor evokes continually - and pleasantly - surprises me. 

When it came time for testing, the concepts that had been introduced with the more "humorous" material yielded the highest retention rate (i.e., the best grades). 

This humorous skit by Horrible Histories for younger audiences was laughed at by teenagers for a different reason: it's ridiculous....but there's some accurate information being shared. This idea, intended to be a "humorous incentivizer" stirred students' creativity as to what types of stories, videos, drawings and songs they could create for others.

During this unit, the normal competition that arises among students gave way to a more playful, non-defensive attitude. When everyone was laughing, they were more engaged. They wanted to know what "someone said" that was so funny so that they too could participate in the fun. 

The more information students integrated, the more "material" they had to write jokes, skits, and reports. In a creative mindset, they asked for more material, asked more questions, and wanted more details, which makes perfect sense. 

Naturally, in order to "get" any joke or convey information humorously, you have to first master the material. When the focus on learning was redirected toward the idea of having fun and joking around, retention levels went through the roof!

As we actively reevaluate educational systems around the globe, this is an excellent example to keep in mind. Utilizing humor appropriately allows us to inspire our children to truly enjoy their own lifelong pursuit of knowledge.

The world is changing so fast. Technologically speaking, in 40 years we will not recognize the systems that define us as a society and perhaps even as human beings. We do not want to raise citizens that are reluctant to adapt when we're on the verge of creating an inherently more flexible society driven by shared progress. It's counterintuitive to think that way.

Humor is a easy, natural way of engaging young and older minds alike, and when given the opportunity, humor serves as a welcomed reminder that life can forever be one GIANT playground. 

Humor is all about timing: purposely and skillfully creating "moments" for people. Moments where the intensity and passions we normally direct toward certain concepts receive a much needed a time out. This momentary pause allows us to recharge, and if necessary, redirect toward the highest good for everyone. 

Anything that can make people feel good is deserving of deeper consideration - even humor. Given what has been presented in "the name of humor" it is indeed a challenge to extract its true nature from the ironic and often times sarcastic packaging associated with its delivery. Whoever can do that, will no doubt contribute much to the theory of humor. When any field receives a poignant contribution, all fields eventually benefit. 

I hope that over the years my exploration of humor and willingness to share what I uncover will bring value to others. In this sense, HTTF serves as a repository of earnest exploration into the subject of humor and what it can do for us. 

Further reading:

Three excellent books related to humor and education: Laughing While Learning: Using Humor in the Classroom by Marilyn Droz and Lori Ellis, The Laughing Classroom: Everyone's Guide to Teaching with Humor and Play by Diane Loomis and Karen Kolberg, and Humor in the Classroom: A New Approach to Critical Thinking by Fred Stopsky. 

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