Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Case for Humor in the College Classroom


I wrote this Op-Ed in 2009 for The Atlanta Journal Constitution's Education section (2009), which was reprinted in The Huffington Post (2010).



The Case for Humor in the College Classroom
c 2009-2015 Perry Binder


As college professors nationwide prepare for a new academic year, my message for them is simple: Lighten up! Your students just might engage and learn.
I never dreamed of being a college professor. Does anybody? When my third grade teacher asked us about our dream job, Molly said an astronaut; Evan, an actor. Perry: Obtain a terminal degree and lecture on legal morasses.
Whether the subject is law or nuclear physics, every student wants a good laugh. As teacher accountability objectives collide with shorter attention spans, laughter is the secret ingredient to keep everyone on task. Humor can even be found in the most stressful situations. For example, I tell students that I can't offer legal advice. But that didn't stop "Steve" from calling me after class in a panic: The judge gave me ten days for speeding; they're taking me away! So that night, I drove to the county jail, where the innkeeper ushered me into a tiny drab room facing glass. Steve appeared on the other side, looking weary and wearing an ugly orange jumpsuit. I never practiced criminal law, so I just put my hand up to the glass and spread my fingers apart because I saw that done on TV. Steve finally smiled and put his hand up to mine. He told me what happened, but all I could do was stare at our mitts and think: Hey, this TV hand thing really works!
While Steve's dilemma was no laughing matter, I use that story on the first day of class to set the tone for the semester: Understanding the law is serious business and applied unequally to funny, young college students without counsel. But we will laugh and learn a lot together.
To me, humor in the classroom mixes audience participation with storytelling about the quirky world around us. The professor and students form an improv troupe, working on the day's subject. Here are my rules of classroom engagement:
Exaggerate to Illustrate. Paint an implausible mental picture to reinforce a topic. When we study "self defense," a limping crazy man wields a lumberman's axe and approaches a student track star limbering up for a run. If the wild man is 200 feet away, does the student have a duty to retreat or can she pick up and use a submachine gun conveniently left on a park bench?
Expect the Unexpected. When a cell phone rings, the classroom rule is that I get to answer it. And when MY phone rang once, the students got to answer it. Another time, students were nervous for an exam, so I asked a student to stand up as I gave her my whiteboard marker. I then ran to the front of the classroom, back to the students, and instructed her to wing the marker at my head (missed me, wide right). One time I wore a pair of Sketchers to class but was skeptical on how they looked. I asked for student opinions by jumping on the computer console table and placing a sole on the document camera, which projected an Imax theater-size image. The original 360° Tour.
Now you might be thinking that your college won't let profs be jailhouse lawyers, encourage students to fling objects, or stand on expensive technology. That's not the point. The most important rule is to always be yourself in the classroom. You don't need to have a funny bone; the world around us is a gold mine of material. Consider this recent headline, Man pleads guilty to DUI in Motorized Recliner. If the law is funny, so is any subject and thus, an opportunity to humor up classrooms.
Postscript. I referred Steve to a criminal defense lawyer but my student still spent three days in jail for speeding. It would've been zero if he had an attorney at the outset, which shows that maybe nothing is funny about the law after all.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

10 College Classroom Tips for You (or your Child's) First Semester


Excerpt from 99 Motivators for College Success book/reprinted in The Huffington Post:

As a freshman, it is not only okay to have no idea what to major in, it's also a sign of an open mind to the diverse menu that college has to offer. Hopefully, you are choosing courses which seem interesting to you rather than classes that parents or peers say you have to take immediately.

To me, a college class is just like a Hollywood screenplay, with peaks, valleys, and escalating conflicts along the way. Your professor may be the writer, director, and critic, but you are the lead actor and protagonist who must navigate the obstacles and perform well on each test thrown at you. Try to keep in mind though, that professors are actually rooting for you to succeed. When you fail, they fail.
If you maintain a clear perspective and a healthy sense of humor, these classroom tips should help you through that first college semester:
  1. 1- The first day of class is the most important session because it sets the tone for the semester. Rather than grabbing a syllabus, tuning out, and leaving, expect more from yourself that day. You have the power to stay in or drop the class, so intently gauge the course relevance, workload, and potential deliverables.
  2. 2- Make a friend on the first day of class so you can swap class notes when needed. Even if the notes stink, you've made a new friend.
  3. 3- Think twice before you post something about classes on Facebook or Twitter. It is unwise to tweet ugly thoughts, especially under the hash tag #BoredinClass. Your professors may actually be active on social networks.
  4. 4- You may be intimidated by your professor's knowledge, but that's a function of your experience, not your abilities. Have confidence in your capacity to learn and you may surprise yourself on what you are capable of accomplishing in class.
  5. 5- The best way to figure out how to study for exams is to attend class and observe what topics are important to professors. Those subjects usually wind up on their tests.
  6. 6- Ask your professors how they would study for their own exams.
  7. 7- If you study for three hours straight, make sure you take a lot of short study breaks. Distraction from learning is the key to retaining what you've learned.
  8. 8- If your professor offers extra credit projects, do them! "Lack of time" is not a good excuse if given ample time to complete the task. "Trying to get a good grade on my own" is a noble reason, but there is no shame in accepting alternative ways to succeed.
  9. 9- Texting in class is better than talking to your neighbor. It's more discreet and less distracting to the professor and students around you. (though your prof may having a policy against cellphone usage)
  10. 10- Approach class like you should approach life: No matter how boring or stressful the day is, find some fun in learning something new.
Finally, college success (whatever that means to you) is more than doing well in the classroom. It's also about figuring out your place in this world. Along the way, it is inevitable that you will occasionally make irrational decisions and not even know why. 

Perry Binder is a legal studies professor at Georgia State University. His classroom tips are from his book, 99 Motivators for College Success, along with other tips on his 99 Motivators blog.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

FLIPPING A LAW CLASS SESSION: CREATING EFFECTIVE ONLINE CONTENT AND REAL WORLD IN-CLASS TEAM MODULES


This article details my experience flipping a class last year.  It will be published in the Fall by The Atlantic Law Journal.

ABSTRACT

This paper discusses the teaching and learning experience of flipping a business law and ethics class session in a hybrid format.  While this experiment was done at the graduate level, the lessons are easily applicable to and adaptable for use at the undergraduate level.  Part I discusses the online video content; the coordination of university technology personnel to create the video; the software platform to capture material and password protect it; and the intellectual property issues relating to that content.  Part II provides a description of each team module, the tasks that students completed outside of class for the modules, and specific instructions on team presentations in class.  These real world business scenarios provided an integrative approach for teaching law and ethics: (1) Breach of Contract Module; (2) Products Liability Module; and (3) Discovery Ethics and Attorney-Client Privilege Module.  Finally, Part III of this paper details what the author learned through the flipped classroom process, and what he would do the same or differently for the next time he flips a class session.

Monday, July 6, 2015

10 Tips for Picking a Career Path in College



I recently spoke at Georgia State University's Summer Leadership Academy for high school students on:

10 Tips for Picking a Career Path in College

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

High School Graduation Speech


On June 18, I'm speaking with 50+ high school juniors and seniors at the 2015 Summer Leadership Academy at Georgia State University in Atlanta, GA.  Here's what I would say to them if I were their teacher:

Your Graduation Inspires Me

Good morning teachers, staff, students, friends, and family members.  And to the graduates:

Every one of you is special.
Every one of you is a productive member of society.
Every one of you is what inspires ME - because…
Every one of you has a story to tell.
I just wish I had the time to hear every one of them, and to be there as your career paths unfold.

You have already accomplished a huge milestone on that journey.  The biggest step though was just showing up.  That’s it.  The secret most people don’t get until it’s too late.  Just showing up as young freshmen was a threshold event.  Trying something which may be hard for the first time.  Experiencing new things, even if it’s unknown whether the objective is attainable.

To me, the greatest barriers to success, however you define that, are a fear of the unknown, a fear of change, and a fear of failure.  But you need a game plan, and hopefully you can lean a little on what you learned in school to figure out that route.  No matter what you do in life, you always will have your education.

I hope you made some lifelong friends here.  Frankly, I learned more about life from my peers than from my teachers.  And I hope you got more than knowledge from your teachers because you can get that from a book.  I’m hoping you gained insight on whatever subject, and then stamped your own original perspective on how to resolve issues and solve problems.

Many times the things you do won’t work.  And you will fail at some things you try.  That’s just a fact of life.  Abraham Lincoln once said:  “My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” 

And you will make mistakes.  A lot of them!  Both in your careers and your lives.  That’s just another fact of life.  But that’s okay.  The trick is figuring out how to deal with setbacks.  Your family and friends will always be there for you.  And your education will continually serve as a foundation to get you back on track.

Franklin D. Roosevelt said: “We are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of our own minds.”  Graduates, each of you must unlock your mind and blaze a path built on reason and purpose.  Life is too short to spend it bouncing around like a random and aimless ball in a game of Pong.  And whether you are 18, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, or 80 years young, it is never too late to test the boundaries of your dreams. 

Finally, I want all of you gathered in front of me to please lose the title of “former” student, because you will be my students for many years to come.  And I expect in return that I can become your student, as I learn about your college experience, professional successes, trials, and tribulations.

Every one of you is special.
Every one of you is a productive member of society.
Every one of you is what inspires me – because...
Every one of you has a story to tell.

What will your next journey be?

c 2009-2015 Perry Binder, LLC

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Five Ways to Ace College Exams for High School Graduates



My Tips for the Entering College Class of 2019:

Five Ways to Ace College Exams
c 2010-2015 Perry Binder (first printed in The Huffington Post)
Wouldn't it be great if college classes were pass/fail, and students could focus on learning rather than competing for grades? Let's get back to the real world for a second, as I propose what I would do as a student to prepare for college exams:
1- Ask your professors to give practice quizzes. Each semester is a feeling out process for students to figure out what types of exams a professor gives. Practice quizzes, with no attached grade, can relieve stress and reveal a lot about upcoming exams. I give a ten question practice quiz prior to the first and second tests so students can see my style and tricks. While my exams are "closed book," I give students the option of taking the practices quizzes with or without notes, with the belief that students haven't fully studied at this point. After the quiz, we go over the answers together.
2- On essay exams, ask your professor if you can write answers in an outline format. It is a difficult task for professors to write objective essay exam questions. Except on open-ended questions, they are usually looking for some specific responses. Why make that professor search all throughout your flowery paragraphs for those answers? Organize responses in an outline form and underline key terms. This method will make grading faster for the professor, and thus you have a happier grader.
3- Prepare flashcards for straightforward multiple choice exam questions. Make a flashcard for each term or concept discussed in class. Put the term on the front, with a definition and example applying the term on the back. For example: the legal term, Duty to Trespassers goes on the front of an index card. On the back: In general, homeowners may be liable for creating dangerous instrumentalities on the property. E.g., Jane surrounds her home with a mote filled with water and alligators to make sure Tom stays off that freshly cut lawn. Make sure to study the flashcards in reverse. (look at the back of the card to see if you can identify the term on the front) Sample easy exam question:
Harold's home was broken into three times this year. So he dug a huge hole on his lawn near the window that robbers seek entry. Then he placed a bear trap at the bottom of the hole and cleverly covered it with small branches and leaves. One night while sneaking up to Harold's window, Tim the Robber fell in, got caught in the bear trap, and was seriously injured. The next morning, Harold went out for the newspaper and to see what he'd caught. Tim screamed: "My leg. I'm hurt!" In Tim's lawsuit for injuries, Harold will likely:
a. win because Tim was a trespasser and landowners owe no duty to trespassers. 
b. lose because landowners owe a duty to keep the premises free from unreasonable dangers they create for trespassers.
I know which answer you'd like to pick. Choose the other one for exam purposes.
4- For "application" multiple choice questions, talk the material out with a study friend. A well written college exam will make you go beyond the mere memorization of material. Another sample exam question:
This morning on the way to our exam, Marcel purchased coffee at the drive-through window of a local burger establishment. With the car stopped, he placed the cup between his knees and opened the lid to add cream. Accidentally, he knocked the contents of the cup onto his lap, and hot coffee soaked through his sweat pants. He screamed: "Help me, I'm burning, and I've got a
test in 20 minutes!" After completing his exam, Marcel headed straight to the hospital, where doctors treated his third degree burns. He then sued the burger joint for failing to warn him that extremely hot coffee can rip through flesh. A jury awarded Marcel $100,000 in damages, but also found him to be 75% responsible and the defendant 25% responsible for the accident. How much money would Marcel be permitted to recover if the defendant does not appeal this verdict?
a. $100,000 
b. $75,000 
c. $25,000 
d. $0
If you chose letter "c," then you understand the legal concept of comparative negligence. In most states, a plaintiff's award is reduced by the percentage of fault assigned by the jury for an accident. However, in my state, if a plaintiff is found to be 50% or more responsible, then that plaintiff would recover nothing from the $100,000 verdict. Thus, the correct response would be letter "d."
5- On take-home exams or term papers, your computer's Spell Check is not the same as proofreading. True story: In a legal document, an attorney asked the judge for a delay in his case because he was undergoing a delicate medical procedure on his back: Disk surgery. However, he mistakenly typed a different four letter word that looked like DISK, inserting an unfortunate "C" rather than the needed "S." Spell check didn't pick up the error, since the word was spelled correctly. The take-away: Please proof your take-home exams and papers!
Pace yourself on game day. Flip through the exam before starting, to see what you've gotten yourself into. But before taking that test, try to get on the same page with your professor, because s/he really wants you to succeed.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Amazon's Best High School Graduation Gift Books


This is a list I complied a few years back...

Click here: High School Graduation Gift Books

Amazon


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Jesse Friedman's Case and the Appearance of Impropriety


This is the third article I've written in The Huffington Post about the Friedman case:

The Friedman case continues to be defined by delay.  Two years after I posed the question, Is Actual Innocence “Capturing the Friedmans”?, the frustrating answer is: We still don’t know.  Below is a tangled story of: evidence withheld by the Nassau County District Attorney’s office from its own case advisory panel; a panelist’s subsequent modification of the panel’s original recommendations; a defamation lawsuit filed by the defense against the DA’s office; the recent election of DA Kathleen Rice to U.S. Congress; and a judge set to hear Friedman’s case, though she worked as an Assistant DA with DA Rice for years.

In the above 2012 article, I summarized the case background:

On November 25, 1987, I was sprawled out on my parents' couch, when my favorite high school teacher appeared on the TV news.  Arnold Friedman was a retired NYC instructor who taught computer classes in his home for local kids.  I watched as he and his 17-year old son, Jesse, were handcuffed and hauled away for horrific child molestation crimes occurring in their basement.  I fell off that couch in disbelief.  Arnold and Jesse Friedman each pled guilty to avoid a trial, and Jesse learned of his father's prison suicide in 1995.  Since his release in 2001, Jesse has attempted to clear his name, so he no longer must register as a Level 3 violent sexual predator. In 2003, new facts about his case emerged in the Oscar-nominated documentary, Capturing the Friedmans, which examined the evidence against the Friedmans and questioned whether any of the allegations against them were truthful.  On August 16, 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found "a reasonable likelihood that Jesse Friedman was wrongfully convicted" and that "the police, prosecutors and the [trial] judge did everything they could to coerce a guilty plea and avoid a trial."  That November, the Nassau County District Attorney appointed a panel of four experts to review the evidence against Jesse. 


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How Do You Spot An Outstanding Teacher?


Wise words from Georgia State University College of Education professors
Click here

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Never crush anyone’s career dreams


Dr. J at the James L. Knight Center in Miami, before an exhibition game to attract an NBA team

CAREER PATH MOTIVATOR
#4
Don’t let anyone crush your dreams.  However, the riskier your dream, the better your backup plan must be.


QUICK STORY BEFORE PICKING A CAREER PATH
Never crush anyone’s dreams.
When I was a little kid, I dreamed about playing professional basketball.  In third grade, we had to write an essay on what we wanted to be when we grew up.  I wrote that I wanted to be 6’10” and play in Madison Square Garden.  When the teacher handed back my paper, she laughed out loud and said: “You can’t do that!”
That was the first time someone had crushed my professional dream.  The teacher may have been right about the 6’10” part, but this molder of young minds lacked the understanding of what negative reinforcement can do to little kids.  She also lacked the understanding that height isn’t everything for a basketball player.  Teachers, especially in the impressionable K-12 years, are my personal heroes.  Yet they need to be dream builders, not dream destroyers.  It’s healthy to discuss rational backup career plans, but why spoil youthful exuberance which could flower into the unexpected?
            Postscript:  When I was 25 years old, I met the great Dr. J and got to play one-on-one with 7’4” center Mark Eaton of the Utah Jazz, that year’s NBA Defensive Player of the Year.  I’ll leave the game results to your active imagination.
This story is the basis for Motivator #4