I’ve had a lot of good teaching moments with my students lately. I think it is because we’re discussing the endocrine system this week (which is by far my favorite), but I’ve found myself going off on a lot of tangents in my conversations with students about course material. Today, for instance, I was talking about oxytocin with a student after explaining how the posterior pituitary differs from the anterior pituitary. This student asked me what oxytocin does, and I told them the usual stuff that they will be tested on (childbirth, lactation, etc). I went a little off-script with social empathy and pair-bonding, and then got way off script when I started explaining the recent debates about the role of oxytocin in autism and racism.
I like to think that most students appreciate getting the bigger-picture view instead of me just telling them what they need to know for the test, especially since most of the students in my course are going on to medical or allied med fields. I am, by nature, an over-explainer (as many people I spend a lot of time with in meatspace will tell you). I have a tendency to make lists when talking, and I have this compulsion to squeeze everything I know about something into an explanation without talking over the student’s head. Obviously this will depend on the pace of a conversation; if I have a lot of test stuff to explain or a lot of students vying for my attention, I will keep it to a minimum, but in a one-on-one conversation I’ll pull out everything in my arsenal. I’ve given my students a brief introduction to regional heterothermy before just because I thought it was cool. I’ve had mixed reviews from students about this on my teaching evaluations. I think most students appreciate my thorough explanations, because having lots of context makes things more intuitive for them. I had one student stay after one time to thank me just for spending so much time babbling about stuff to her, she said it really helped her retention of information. I’ve had other students complain that I talk too much about stuff that they don’t need to know for exams. Oh well, you can’t please everyone.
Today I was talking about cortisol, and a student asked me what it does. I said it is the main stress endocrine in humans… and hamsters. The student found that really funny, I guess he was picturing a stressed out hamster or something, but I guarantee you that kid will remember what cortisol does when he takes his exam. Students respond to humor. If you make something funny, they’ll remember it forever. (I am reminded of a student who was having trouble with cortical projections, and I told her the origin of the word homunculus. She told me that helped her like nothing else could.)