What should I teach?
June 27, 2010 8:06 PM   Subscribe

As part of an interview, I need to teach for 10 minutes on any topic. The main objective is to make the subject as interactive and engaging as possible. Suggestions for what to teach, please?

From what I've been told, successful past topics have included things like step dancing and card tricks. Academic subjects are allowed, but I feel like a less traditional topic would be easier to teach in an interactive format. I was thinking about Chisenbop [finger math] but I'd like other ideas.

Also, since the focus is more on my teaching style than content, do you have any tips for being an engaging teacher? Things to do / avoid?
posted by estlin to Education (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should note that I've read several previous questions about teaching, but those were about teaching long-term. For this job, I already know the content of what I'd actually be teaching well and I'm feeling confident about it. It's just the interview portion - and the freedom of choice for the teaching segment - that I need help with.
posted by estlin at 8:12 PM on June 27, 2010

I once had to do something similar. I did toilet paper. Truly a rich, rich topic--from the history to the controversies: single ply vs. double, fold vs. scrunch, under vs. over, etc.

YMMV with that one depending on how formal this is.
posted by resiny at 8:13 PM on June 27, 2010

If your interview is the same one that I've done in the past, there are two past questions which might help you out: 1, 2. The big deal is to be able to be engaging, be interested in your own topic and make it interesting to other people. People may ask you questions about it that are outside of your standard rapport, so you should know it a little more than just what you say about it. I think the normal suggestions apply. Maintain eye contact, be friendly, be able to do the thing and talk about doing the thing at the same time, try to connect with people in the audience. When I did mine, the big deal was sticking to time limits and being able to answer questions. So I'd think about a standard outline

- Chisenbop is an interesting way to do math without using paper or pencil using only your hands!
- Example of how it works & what the parts are [maybe draw some out on the board, they like to see you being able to use the board]
- Now I'll show you how to do some simple math, try this with me
- * interactive example*
- You can do all sorts of things with this once you've learned a few basic steps. Keep this in mind next time you're figuring out a tip at the pizza place.
- end on time
posted by jessamyn at 8:14 PM on June 27, 2010

I don't know about topic, but if the time period is key, plan it so that you can cut something off the end without sacrificing the point of the lesson if things go long and so that you have something extra if things go short and you need to fill the time. Maybe plan to teach something in five or six minutes and then use whatever time is left for questions/practice/feedback.

Other than that: smile, show that you are interested in what you're teaching, explain why it will be helpful/fun for the "class" to know it. If this is what I believe it is you'll need to bring the interest and enthusiasm because your eventual students may not have it on their own.
posted by scarnato at 8:24 PM on June 27, 2010

I had to do this about ten years ago. I had read about the idea of a wine tasting course that uses four cups of tea -- no wine -- to teach students how to identify and appreciate some of the basic flavor components of wine. You brew four strong cups of tea, leave one plain (tannin), add lemon to one (acidity), sugar to another (sweetness), and milk (malolactic fermentation, I believe) to the fourth.

I am not an expert on tea or wine, but was able to present this in a simple, engaging way. Getting the "class" to participate was fairly easy with questions about what people would predict the different cups might taste like. By that I mean questions like what you would expect acidity to do to the tannin, what if you combined different cups, etc.. There really were no wrong answers, and that made it easier to keep the class engaged. I stayed away from discussion of particular wines, both because I just don't know enough about the subject and because the point was to teach wine without wine.

The ten minutes flew by, it was very well received, and the other applicants and the instructors/judges all wanted to talk more about it after the fake class. The other two presentations that I remember were from two med students. One did something fairly technical -- maybe the parts of the eye -- and the other did something on bubble formation, which was pretty cool and interesting.
posted by lionelhutz5 at 8:33 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know how familiar you are with public speaking, but 10 minutes is a very short period of time; much shorter than you might imagine.

I'd suggest teaching something that is conceptually simple, and doesn't require the audience to get their heads around anything radically new. Your success would be measured by the extent to which you can make a seemingly familiar topic engaging, by involving the audience & passing on at least one tidbit of information that they didn't already know.

Bonus points if it can involve a bit of body language, and you should probably try to avoid using props, as they can be distracting if not handled well.

For example, How to Suck Eggs:

- Brief intro explaining the history & meaning of the phrase
- Audience interaction: "how many of you have actually tried to suck an egg?" (maybe throw in a made-up anecdote about how you tried & failed)
- Demonstration with body language (poke a hole in each end of an imaginary raw egg with a skewer, and mime sucking the egg out through the hole)
- Demonstration of physics involved on blackboard (hole at far end allows air to replace vacuum created by sucking)
- Slapstick mime: what happens if you don't make the second hole (egg explodes on face) - this could be slotted into the second point, above
- Summary & conclusion "...I just taught you the proper way to suck eggs; now you can pass this on to your grandmothers"
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:38 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've done similar kinds of exercises - keep it really really really simple and non-domain specific.

Keep it simple! Have the "learners" do something.

I saw one example where someone knew how to tie shoelaces in a really nifty manner. She had the learners tie their shoelaces using that method; she also brought a bunch of shoelaces for people with shoes sans shoelaces.

I've found that origami can be a good demonstration; learn how to fold a crane. Bring origami paper - or better have people make a square from a piece of letter paper; fold down two corners, score and excise the extra... then explain how the cross fold is a very common origami fold, explain how scoring the paper makes it easier to tear, have learners try to make a clean straight tear without scoring vs. light scoring vs. very strong scoring (with fingernails), &c. If you're an experienced origamist, when at certain points in folding, tell the learners that the sequence can go in a different direction (for example) and turn into something else completely... but the base folds are the same.

Show, explain, expand.

Stay focused on your 10 minute goal; the expand part is important, but never digress away from your core goal. By having the learners do something, you can provide feedback both positive and corrective.
posted by porpoise at 8:47 PM on June 27, 2010

Heh, I was going to guess that this was standardized teaching tutoring, too.

When I interviewed for a similar job, I explained how to do a very simple haircut I learned about via a hippie haircutting book. This included drawing diagrams on the wipe-off board.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:49 PM on June 27, 2010

Test prep instructor interview, I'm assuming. Here's the things I looked for when I hired teachers for The Princeton Review:
    1. Movement: if you stand in one spot, you're not getting the job
    2. Engagement: involve everyone in the room in whatever you're teaching
    3. Energy within a calm exterior: you should be highly energetic, but not in the least bit rushed or frantic
Those things matter more than your topic, by far. That said, the most successful interview candidates did something quirky for their auditions. Think "demo" instead of "lesson". Do you have any hobbies? Skills that involve small props? Do a how-to on one of those. If you can bring something to hand people and let them try while you instruct, do that. Finger math isn't a bad idea, it just trends vaguely toward academic, so you'll really want to sex it up a bit.
posted by donnagirl at 8:50 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's not been mentioned yet, but you should start with a boredom-breaker. There's actually an education term for this, but I don't remember it. Essentially, go with your big attention-grabbing pitch immediately. If you're lucky, you can get most of the kids to pay attention.
Chisenbop seems cool, and I bet you could make it work (hey, I know how to count to 100 on my hands!) but only if they can see your hands and if they can quiz you.
posted by Gilbert at 10:18 PM on June 27, 2010

For a similar thing, I taught a little bit of wire-wrapped art-making. Because there was something tangible, and because it was a bit tricky, people had a real sense of accomplishment when they finished it, and had something to keep afterwards, both of which I think set me apart a bit. I agree with others above, though, that what you teach is much less important than how you teach.
posted by judith at 10:33 PM on June 27, 2010

Random quirky ideas off the top of my head:

How to play Cat's Cradle.
How to use three glasses and water to create a three-note chord called a triad. (Bring a pitch harp.)
How to make the best PBJ ever.
Why some people can't roll their tongues.
Setting up your iPhone/Blackberry to check your email account.
How to perform a situp (crunch) properly.
A quick vocal ped lesson (how the human voice works).

Best of luck!
posted by goblinbox at 11:47 PM on June 27, 2010

I got my last science teaching job with an interview where I included a "P.O.E." mini-lesson. P.O.E. stands for "predict - observe - explain". The students are shown some sort of demo set-up, they have to make a prediction based on their prior knowledge, and then after the demo is over, they need to explain/discuss what actually happened. The best sort of demos for this are often "discrepant event" demonstrations (PDF), where the outcome is not necessarily what you expect.

Your lesson should probably spotlight multiple aspects or your teaching philosophy - especially if this if for a grade school or high school teaching position. So for example, you may believe that it's important that students learn to make observations and record them (for a science class) - so the demo should include them making a labeled diagram of the set-up of the demo, then diagramming what happened. (In an interview this can be "talked through" - you don't need to make the interviewers actually draw a diagram.) Or maybe it's important for you to assess their prior knowledge as part of the mini-lesson. Or maybe it's important to uncover incorrect pre-existing assumptions the students have about something. And be prepared to explain why you did things a certain way - have some reason/theory behind it.
posted by chr1sb0y at 7:38 AM on June 28, 2010

For my standardized-prep-teaching interview, I taught folks how to do laundry by following those symbols printed on your clothing tags. Familiar / mundane enough not to be academic, but easy to set up the "class" with a clear beginning, middle, and end (starting with simple icons on the board, then building up to a more complicated set of icons).
posted by pants at 7:41 AM on June 28, 2010

"Basic Computer Maintenance" would be relevant to any in your audience.
posted by Pamelayne at 12:26 PM on June 28, 2010

Sorry, I just saw the second part of your question. Be, or appear, informed about your subject; engage your students with humility and grace; Tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them, then invite questions.
posted by Pamelayne at 12:30 PM on June 28, 2010

* How to count cards in a given game
* bar etiquette from across the world
* rules of roller derby (student did an excellent presentation on how to score in roller derby with nifty diagrams)
* things to consider when getting a tattoo
posted by jadepearl at 3:07 PM on June 28, 2010

If you know how, juggling breaks down to very small bits. Laying the foundations can be entertaining, engaging, and interactive. Other than a very brief demo of a cascade at the beginning, you can spend your ten minutes with a single ball (as can your students). It's visual, lends itself to patter, almost everyone can throw and catch a single ball, many people are unaware of how simple the underlying principles are, people can experience immediate progress, etc.
posted by cairnish at 3:29 PM on June 28, 2010

Response by poster: Hello again, I just got back from my audition, and thought I'd update this thread in case any future applicants find it helpful.

Yeah, I was auditioning to teach for the Princeton Review - not sure why I was dancing around saying that in my question!

I ended up deciding to teach different shoelace knots from this site. There were only 2 other applicants, and their topics were packing a suitcase and card tricks. The whole thing was really laid back - there was a timer in the room, but the auditioner said we didn't have to use it.

I was pretty nervous about the whole thing. I was surprised that I had gotten an audition in the first place, especially since I've still got a year of high school left. I doubt I got the job - the other applicants were miles more qualified than me, but I left feeling good about how it all went - and knowing a nifty new card trick!

Thanks so much, everyone, for giving me advice and possible topics!
posted by estlin at 4:57 PM on June 29, 2010

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