Weird Classes

We once had two weird classes in one semester.

The first class was about poetry.

“Good morning everyone, in this semester we will be learning about poems. We will learn to interpret what the authors convey from their poems. I believe using the social media will be a perfect way for us to discuss with each other even after classes.”

So the class went pretty well and the online discussion was quite interactive. Although sometimes the mandatory social media discussion seems awkward, I believe most of us had the passion to express our thoughts at least once or twice for the semester.

However the class become weird at the final. Instead of trying to explain what we see from the poems, what the metaphors could be, half of the test requires us to recite the poems and fill out the blanks. The other half of the exam went as usual, but everything just felt ridiculous at the end.

The second class was Chemistry.

” I would like everyone to memorize the chemical equations, periodic table and properties of groups in the periodic table.”

Not surprisingly, the class had a lot of contents but pretty dry to listen. I fell asleep several times during the semester, probably so did my classmates. To make sure we could get good grades on this class, we tried our best to memorize everything in the class. We were even reviewing after midnight the day before the final.

The final required us to predict a super complicate reaction with the permission of using our notes and even the internet. The teacher did mention about how to use scientific searching engines to find references, however we never did it ourselves. Half of the exam we were trying to figure out what we should be searching. We were also allowed to discuss with each other during the exam, this did make us less miserable, but I did not feel very effective when discussing with others. I screwed up this one as well.


I’m the poetry teacher.

At the very beginning, I was trying to have my students engaged in the discussion about poems, let them feel about the scene the authors depicted. I require the class share thoughts with each other, so that they could learn from different perspectives. I thought feelings and how to express them, is one of the most important thing we can learn by reading poems. However, one day, I got worried. I was worried that thoughts generated on thoughts are so overwhelming that the origin poem were left behind and forgotten. I was worried that other beauties lie in the form of poems were neglected. So I decided to make the final closer related to poems themselves. I didn’t expect they could do well on the exam, but I will explain my thoughts to them. Surprisingly, some students can still finish out the poems (or some of the poems) pretty well.

I’m the chemistry teacher.

I start my class with emphasizing the importance of memorizing everything and of deducting one from the other. But students seemed not attracted to them. Some students even fell asleep. I started to wonder what was wrong. By retrospecting my way of accomplishing tasks, I memorize the basic but always look up about things I may need but do not know. Right, that’s right. I should not let my students to memorize everything, once they graduate from school, they will need more than knowing the knowledge to adapt. I should let them know the importance of the tools. I picked up a reaction for them to predict in the final, and I encourage them using the tools they know. It should not be hard for them. Well, it turned out that they actually are not that familiar with the tools. Even for this generation that grows up with the internet, gaps exist between blocks of the flat world.



7 thoughts on “Weird Classes

  1. I really like the way you explore the thought process for the two well-meaning educators that find themselves in difficult situations regarding their teaching styles. It can sometimes be very challenging to balance the passionate pursuit of a subject and covering the required material. It may be that the course can be structured to allow more of the fun and less of the memorization. I wonder what others have to say about this.


  2. Kevin- Wow, first and foremost, solid job taking this blog prompt and running with it, very well done. Not only did you make me think about teaching in general, but you also pressured me to think about my own teaching style and expectations. In addition, I think we can all relate to having either the poetry and chemistry teacher, or both, at some point in our life and it definitely makes me reflect on maybe some judgements I made as a student. Similar to Arash, I’d love to hear others opinions on this post as I think we all have a number of inputs about which teacher we would relate to most or which approach we see as most beneficial for learning.


  3. I think you have nicely summed up what it felt like to cross the street from student to TA. As a student, I remember that I had very little patience for labs that had any kind of disorganization, or lab manuals that were not always clearly worded. And then I started TAing, and the semester that I first taught was also the first semester the Instructor on Record was responsible for the course. So naturally, the lab manual was brand new and completely disorganized, and almost nothing went right the first time. Luckily, I was fresh off the boat to the grad school world, and I clearly remembered what it was like being on the other side of the syllabus. That semester I spent a lot of time apologizing to students and trying to explain why we were doing things the way we were. I can only hope that those students understood the challenges of setting up a new course and that they valued the education they got rather than focusing on all the things that went a little wrong.


  4. Excellent writing style. You make us come up with the solution. It seems there is a missing part of the learning process. Teachers have assumptions that are not realistic and students have the same. To me, teachers should be much more clear why they’re making these decisions and what to expect from their students.


  5. Great job transporting us into the minds of the teachers. To piggyback on Blayne’s comment, I think my experiences as a teacher fall more in line with the chemistry teacher. It is so hard to know what students are already comfortable with, and what knowledge they bring with themselves into the classroom, especially for a new teacher. I work in the life sciences (entomology), and we, as do many disciplines, use a lot of jargon. For me, the natural world and science were parts of my upbringing, so of course I went into my science classes knowing what millipedes, sutures and parasitoids were, but for the majority of undergraduates entering my Insect Bio classroom, these are totally new terms. That was easily one of the more important lessons that I learned the first time I taught. Always explain your jargon, even if it seems silly to do so. Someone will appreciate the effort.


  6. I am fascinated by the innovative and experimental approach you took as an Educator. The outcome of your pedagogical experiment goes hand in hand with the line of work on dichotomic attention and mental processes; and how being exposed to a certain kind of approach/ way of learning make the student to adapt, think and expect in a certain way and eventually laying out a mental trajectory for exam.

    I absolutely love your post because it is easily readable as well as insightful. Thanks!


  7. Hi, Kevin, I’m attracted by your interesting title and I find your experience is more interesting. Maybe the two classes are very weird in western society, but I have experienced many classes with the similar style in China, from primary school to college. From the first grade of elementary school, we were asked to recite the poems of different dynasties from BC to the present, and the difficult articles were written in classical Chinese. Of course, it also includes various mathematical formulas, the periodic table of elements, English vocabulary and physical theorems. Many students complain when they are studying, and then feel happy to remember these after leaving school. Although several educational reforms have attempted to change the educational model of rote memorization, there has been no objection to poetry and the memory of the periodic table. I haven’t recited those poems for ten years, but I can still write most of them now, and quote them in my Chinese writing, or use similar writing to modify my articles. Yes, creativity is important, but nothing is created by the existing knowledge. No second floor can build without the first floor. And remembering some existing knowledge can make learning more efficient.

    So, I think networked learning is a good way to learn, but that doesn’t mean other ways of education can be replaced.


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