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Abstract Title: Funny Physics: The Roles of Humor in Learning and Teaching Physics
Abstract: When laughter happens in the physics classroom, it can be seen as a distraction, even if a pleasant one. But there are serious reasons to study humor in the physics classroom.  Cognitive science has revealed how emotions play an integral role in cognition and learning.  For students and instructors, humor can serve as an important tool for managing the conceptual and emotional dynamics of the physics classroom.  For researchers, attending to humor can reveal subtle aspects of students' thinking, and can bring to light the diverse ways students engage seriously in physics, even as they are laughing.   In this session, we will explore the use of humor in the classroom in productive and inclusive ways through presentations from researchers, hands-on data analysis, and a discussion of our perspectives and findings.
Abstract Type: Custom Format

Author/Organizer Information

Primary Contact: Sissi Li
California State University Fullerton
800 N. State College Blvd.
Fullerton, CA 92831
Phone: 657-278-7027
and Co-Presenter(s)
Luke Conlin, Salem State University, Salem, MA

Symposium Specific Information

Discussant: Rachel Scherr
Moderator: Luke Conlin
Presentation 1 Title: An analytical lens on humor in teaching and learning physics
Presentation 1 Authors: Luke Conlin, Sissi L Li
Presentation 1 Abstract: As instructors, many of us have tried to make use of positive emotion stemming from humor in the classroom to engage students in learning physics. We sometimes use humorous cartoons and jokes intended to connect students to the content in a fun way.  But humor is more than just fun; it takes some conceptual understanding and personal/emotional investment to appreciate and enjoy the joke. Further, taking a learning activity in physics seriously may look different for learners from different backgrounds and cultures. Humor can also have subtle side-effects that support participation, shape social dynamics, and communicate attitudes about doing science and being scientists. In this introduction, we will motivate the need to study humor in our instruction and present frameworks and perspectives that attend to the cognitive, social, cultural and personal nature of humor in the classroom.
Presentation 2 Title: What's so funny? How analyzing humor lends insight into student thinking
Presentation 2 Authors: Colleen Gillespie Nyeggen
Presentation 2 Abstract: Teachers and researchers recognize the importance of attending to and building upon students' ideas.  However, many have overlooked one of the most telling ways students express their ideas: laughter.  We will analyze the laughter in a clip of a whole-class discussion in a high school physics classroom.  There is significant variability in what triggers students' laughter and the purpose the laughter serves. At times, the laughter responds to bald disagreement and serves to dissipate tension.  At other times, the laughter highlights conceptual inconsistencies and serves to correct the speaker.  For example, the class laughs when a student reported purposefully changing factors that were supposed to serve as experimental controls. When the student self-corrects, he laughs along with the class. The analysis reveals the varied reasons for students laugher, the methodological challenges of discerning these reasons, and the insights such an analysis can provide teachers and researchers into students' thinking.
Presentation 3 Title: "Because math": Navigating conceptual and personal tensions in group discourse
Presentation 3 Authors: Erin Ronayne Sohr
Presentation 3 Abstract: We will examine a clip of a clinical focus group of upper-level physics majors discussing a problem on the particle in a box. In this clip, the group closes the conversational topic of linear algebra through a shared joke around their tentative, mathematical solution. Evidence of shared humor comes from the presence of shared laughter and a marked change in the group's interactional space; particularly physical orientation towards each other, turn-taking norms, and responses to each other's proposals. Analysis of the group's interaction shows that the joke functioned to both leave a conceptual query unresolved, as well as mitigate some tension experienced by the group. This analysis shows that it can be difficult to tease apart whether it is cognitive dissonance or emotional dissonance driving the discursive trajectory of the group, suggesting that both the cognitive and emotional content of student discussion be of equal concern for instructors and researchers.