Telling a Story


If you poll my students on what they feel is the most boring subject matter in geology, you would almost certainly hear: "rocks." Let's face it, even for this teacher with a degree in geology, rocks aren't the most compelling of subjects. Now, let's imagine you need to cover a whole assortment of technical information¹ about rocks. It's not exactly a teacher's dream subject matter.

We (students, teachers, Homo sapiens) don't pay attention to boring things (Brain Rule #4). As an educator, it's my job to convey information to individuals that may not initially be interested in the material. Professionally, some of my favorite moments are when I can successfully connect students to material that is often considered above their heads or too "academic."


Earlier this week I was listening to the RadioLab podcast of Robert Krulwich's commencement speech at CalTech this spring. In the speech, Mr. Krulwich makes the argument that the new graduates shouldn't be afraid to explain to non-science people what they do with their lives. Not only that, he makes the case that these young scientists should use metaphors, examples, and basically explain the technical information through telling a story.

Mr. Pebbles

Mr. PebblesSo, how do you connect students to technical rock information? Why, through telling the saga of Mr. Pebbles², of course! Mr. Pebbles is a pebble (surprise!) who goes through a crazy journey of being melted, reformed, and then dragged through the rest of the rock cycle. I made a little (poorly drawn) comic strip³ depicting Mr. Pebbles' travel (and travail), which just happened to touch upon the required content. I worried it would be to "kiddie" for my high school sophomores, but they enjoyed it. They enjoyed it enough that I had them create their own comics later on in the unit.

Stories add emotion and connect listeners to the subject matter. Connecting content to students is something that educators, regardless of subject, are (hopefully) trying to do.

¹ i.e. Fractional crystallization, partial melting

² Yes. I drew that.

³ Which I unfortunately don't currently have in a digital format