Column: Lessons learned from the Mighty Ducks

Ten minutes into class, I’m ready, willing and eager to learn. I enter the room wide-eyed with a nice, fake smile. Nothing can put a damper on my spirits, or so I believe.

Fifty minutes into class, I’m fading. I hear what the teacher’s saying, but nothing registers. The words traverse my mind, then fall off its cliff like a lemming. I try to catch them, but they vanish with a melodic splat.

Ninety minutes into class, a smile crosses my face. Freedom still feels like a distant reality, so I find solace in my daydreams. They consist of a wet fork, a power outlet and my left hand.

I’m not trying to blame the teachers. I’d be a horrible teacher. A class with me would be like a trip to Wollastons: expensive and unfulfilling (not that I don’t go). Students in my class would want to be put down Old Yeller style. I’d be that incompetent.

My ideas for better classes don’t require a lot of time or a lot of resources, just a little extra effort. Teachers, give them a try. You might be surprised with the results.

A teacher of mine once played a clip of “Pimp My Ride.” Normally, I don’t find that show very funny. However, something strange happened. I thought it was hysterical. This episode of “Pimp My Ride” was on the same level as Seinfeldian hilarity, because it was comparably much funnier than the stuff being taught.

Before I saw the clip, my focus had wavered. I can’t recall exactly what I was thinking about, but it probably involved barbeque sauce, a Pop Tart, and some sweet lovin’. At any rate, after I saw the clip, my focus returned. I took better notes than I had all semester.

This effect made me think, “What if a teacher showed something that was genuinely funny?” What if a teacher showed a two-minute clip of Larry David stealing a golf club from a casket? Footage of Kramer dropping a giant ball of oil out the window? I think it would make learning easier. So would my next idea.

When it first happened, I tried to keep a smile off my face. I hate to admit they affected me, but they were too damn cute. If you can evade their powers, I envy you. I also question whether you have a soul.

Earlier this year, a teacher of mine took a break and went to CuteOverload.com. It’s a Web site that consists of furry animals in cute poses. When the page first loaded, I was asking myself, “What the hell is this?”

But my tune changed.

Eventually, all of the critters broke me down. By the end, both interest and enthusiasm were brewing in me.

Before the animal inundation, class had me dizzy, sweat-stained and gasping for air. The overload was like a second wind.

The effects made me think once again. What if a teacher showed something that truly made me happy? What if a teacher replayed Foulke’s toss to Mientkiewicz? What about showing highlights of Peyton Manning choking against the Patriots? Clips of either would put me in a good mood for the rest of the day.

My final idea is my favorite. It’s also the only surefire way to relieve the pain of 100-minute classes. Northeastern should get rid of them, save for labs.

I understand the need for 100-minute classes. It doesn’t really make sense to have a lab for 65 minutes. But a lecture? I think it makes a lot more sense to have a lecture for 65 minutes.

There’s a reason why teachers have always told us not to cram for exams. Psychologists know it as the spacing effect. This concept suggests that memory retention is better if you study for one hour over two days than two hours over one day. Therefore, wouldn’t it be better if you learned material over three days instead of two? I think it would be.

In general, I think professors at Northeastern should borrow some coaching strategies from “D2: The Mighty Ducks.” Initially, Coach Bombay, played by Emilio Estevez, lost the respect of his players. This was because he had taken the fun out of hockey. The team’s playing suffered until things changed.

Coach Bombay didn’t cancel practices. But instead of running drill after drill, he incorporated some lighter elements. The team had a stunning turnaround. Because even though the quantity of practice was less, the quality was better. It allowed Team USA to truly fly. Can the same be said about 100-minute classes – and without a single moment of humor?

– Christopher Sabanty can be reached at [email protected]

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