Todd asks a good question.

Re that super slick commercial I posted the other day:

Todd: Do they need to see a video to understand it even better than they already do?

The answer is no. Definitely not. This isn’t a better way to teach personification, just different.

Todd then takes his line of inquiry to the next available stop.

Todd: what’s the pay off for having shown it?

“Different” is, in a serious way, its own payoff.

Personification may be an easy concept to teach through any number of traditional routes. But asking the question “do they need to see a video?” oftentimes means ignoring the question “do they want to see a video?” And I realize that both of our students want to cancel class and throw dice, but this isn’t that argument.

It’s just really really important for our students to see us in different dimensions than just “English teacher” and “math teacher.” It’s important for us to surprise them constantly. It’s important to me that my students don’t know what cool thing I might show off next period. It’s important to me that they see me enthusiastic about t.v. and commercials and whatever else besides math. It makes me accessible and, at the same time, very mysterious.

Even though that video is merely “different,” not better, the fact that you’re showing a t.v. commercial in class (!) in order to teach English will make your kids cock their heads and think for a second that maybe they don’t have you pinned down. The ambiguity in which I cloak myself by showing any relevant commercial or short film I come across (and a lot of irrelevant ones during the class break), again, in a very serious way, brings in kids who would otherwise take a second lunch period. That mystique, in a way that is completely pedagogically unjustified, makes me a better teacher.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Good point and thank you. It’s funny you should need to remind me of this since I believe, very firmly, in your point here. This, above everything else that was said elsewhere, is a great reason to show that video. And to keep looking for other ways to get students hooked. It’s all part of manipulation and it’s crucial.

  2. I also think the video is valuable beyond just “different” and mysterious and relevant to kids (which is a pretty powerful reason in itself).

    Personification is a technique used to communicate. Writing and words are used to get our message across. I think sometimes students see English class writing as irrelevant and it doesn’t apply outside of class. Using personification is just something we do for our teachers or just something we have to search for in the books we read.

    This commercial shows them that there is a real purpose, a real use for these techniques they learn in school. Meaningful discussions about how personification works in various media can be powerful and lead to the bigger picture of “What technique is most appropriate in helping me to create the effect I want in my audience?”

    And my colleagues and I have been discussing the fact that our students (fifth graders) don’t always remember, or think about, the fact that SOMEBODY had to write those commercials and the episodes of SpongeBob before they even began to film.

    I’ve already put the commercial on my iPod, ready to use next year. Thanks, Dan!

  3. Yeah, y’know, that right there is something I couldn’t put my finger on earlier.

    This is like when us math teachers tell kids, “you know, you’ll use [concept x] all the time in engineering or architecture or … ” without realizing that we’re trying to thrill them about their future jobs.

    I showed my lunchtime crowd some motion graphics this one day, special effect-type stuff, and a kid who dropped my class at the start of the year said, “I would’ve stuck with Geometry if it was about this. No one cares about Geometry but Meyer.”

    And I’m thinking to myself, I’m blowing it, ’cause without Geometry none of that fun special effect stuff is possible. I’ve gotta show ’em more often that this stuff is good for more than just their future 9-to-5.

  4. Lori Jablonski

    July 14, 2007 - 12:21 pm -

    Right on, Mindy. You beat me to it and said it much better than I could. I teach the big kids and believe me they still need such dot connecting at 17 and 18.

    And on a more groovy note, stuff like this very simply makes what we do more exciting and dare I say enjoyable…I really can’t think of any other way to promote the notion of an intrinsic value of education than to surprise and mix things up like this. I don’t know who said it first, but leaving aside everything else, education is valuable because smart, well-informed people get more jokes.

    Think of the short Simpson’s clip I might use in my govt class as the rich and gooey chocolate fudge sauce drizzled over the vanilla lesson on the two party system. “Aliens Run for President” suddenly makes hilarious sense beyond the great visuals of a naked Bill Clinton and Bob Dole and their replicons Kang and Kodos holding hands as they campaign for president in Springfield. The students laugh like they’re suddenly part of the inside joke, as if they’re finally gaining access to some exclusive club. Not a bad outcome. And not a bad way to end a lesson.