Laundry List

by James Morris

I’m a list-maker. I keep all kinds of lists. I have lists of books I want to read, movies I want to see, things I need to do, projects that are unfinished, things I don’t want to forget to tell someone, ideas for classes I am teaching.

I am not alone. Many people keep lists, from shopping lists to bucket lists. Students memorize spelling and vocabulary lists. David Letterman is well known for his Top Ten lists. There are even apps these days to help you manage your lists: keep track of tasks, prioritize them, or be reminded of them.

Charles Darwin too was a list maker. Continue reading


by James Morris

Over the summer, I read an article called “Teaching that Sticks” by Chip and Dan Heath. Why do some lessons stick and others don’t? The authors identify several characteristics that describe what they call “sticky teaching.” One of these is curiosity. If students are curious, they engage more and tend to remember what they learn years later.

The authors caution about jumping too quickly to the answer when teaching. We all want students to reach the “Aha!” moment, the Heaths explain. But they suggest that this only works if there is a “Huh?” moment that comes first, a time when students are confused, even puzzled. Out of this confusion, curiosity arises.

They reference a behavioral economist named George Lowenstein, who writes that curiosity comes from what he calls “gaps” in what we know. According to Lowenstein, we feel these gaps when we watch sports and read mystery novels – in both cases, we are curious to see what happens, how it will end, or who did it.

So, I decided to apply this approach to my own teaching. I began a college-level class in evolution not with what we are covering or by going over what to expect, but instead by simply asking questions. No answers, just questions. Continue reading