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Ode to the Loopy Professor

shutterstock_114233848.jpgThere's no use denying it: sitting through hour-long science lectures can be unbearably dull. Often, instead of taking notes, students may find themselves taken... by Zzzzzzz's.

So what can professors do to puncture the tedium? Make students sing. At least, that's Professor Kevin Ahern's solution.

"[Singing is] literally how 95 percent of kids in this country learn their ABCs," Ahern, a biochemistry instructor at Oregon State University, told The Oregonian.

So maybe it will work for science, too?

By all accounts, it has. Ahern is one of the most popular faculty members at OSU, and his students are singing his praises.

"Using creative things to help enforce ideas of logic is very helpful," student Ayla Rogers told The Oregonian.

In one of his musical parodies, set to Village People's "Y.M.C.A.," Ahern revised the lyrics to explore the various conformations of DNA.

"It's fun to play with some B-DNA
It's got a boatload of G-C-T-A 
It's got everything
A polymerase needs 
When you melt all the A's and T's"

With his songs, Ahern is one of those loopy professors infusing fun and creativity into science education. We need as many of them as possible. There's no such thing as too nutty. The more lively the instruction, the better the teaching.

Ahern's antics remind me of the person whom I consider the nuttiest professor of all time. No, I'm not referring to Jerry Lewis or Eddie Murphy. I'm talking about Ms. Valerie Frizzle! Remember her? She was the kooky teacher from Scholastic's timeless The Magic School Bus series.

There's a reason why The Magic School Bus books endeared so many young people to science. It's because they were zany, wild, and whimsical, and Ms. Frizzle embodied all of those traits. In her world, science was presented as boundless, limited only by imagination.  

Science professors don't need a transforming bus to captivate students; all they have to do is put their bubbly personalities to use. Students want to be taught by lively humans, not monotonous automatons.

My quirky physiology professor from UW-Madison was great at this. He often jokingly stressed that one of the major cornerstone ideas of his field was that "sweet goes with salty." Needless to say, he brought snacks of chocolate and popcorn to our weekly evening labs, without which I surely would have dozed off.

Was there a loopy professor that made a difference in your education? Feel free to share your stories in the comments!

(Image: Loopy Professor via Shutterstock)