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Two Guys Walk Into a Bar…

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…and you already know the rest.

And even though you know the rest, you still probably smirked. Stories are powerful things.

I can’t remember names or dates to save my life. I’m terrible at memorization of lists. I studied for hours for high school history tests, only to remember that there was this great, heroic guy, who was really smart and pretty political, so he negotiated a treaty with the foreign governments of France and Prussia in order to avoid a huge conflict that was about to rage. (Okay, not really, and not really those events, but the point is, I remembered the story and not the people or the dates.) This dubious skill was only magnified when I took art history during college. Exams consisted of three parts: identification (piece, artist, medium, location, approx. date) of prominent art works; identification and elaboration of a work’s significance; and an identification and compare/contrast of two works. I could write pages on why the work was significant, how it was used or created, and how it demonstrated contemporary characteristics, but I didn’t know who made it or when. (Strangely, I could figure out the “where” from the artistic characteristics in the piece, like French Gothic arches or Dutch colorings, but still not the “when”.)

In short, I remembered the stories and why events or places or things mattered and how they were connected to other things, but not the little memorization details. Basically, this is storytelling at its core. Can we take storytelling and put it into the classroom lectures, make them more stories than lectures?

I mean, you could just say that black holes are supremely, amazingly, deadly. Or you can say this:

My favorite teacher, a Jr. High geography teacher, was the best storyteller I have ever heard. I still remember the story-lists of cities and capitals (“I was running through the Middle East, and I tripped and I-wracked my knee! So I went to the doctor and said, ‘What’s your Bag-dad?’…”

Dan Meyer says that for online math (a.k.a., the Kahn Academy approach) to be more effective, you first need an in-class hook. The lecture will be that much more palatable if you know you’re going to get something out of it later.

So… for chemistry. What kinds of stories do you make for stoichiometry? What’s the hook? And not just the token stories for problem sets, but a real way to remember how the calculations work and why? How about for moles? Organic functional groups?

Perhaps this will help clear your head for some stories:

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