Teaching Tips

Imagine a World with No Gravity

Mike Mackert | School of Advertising and Public Relations

I’ve often found it both fun and useful to give students a problem for which there are no wrong answers. It just lets them wander a bit to explore ideas and see how one concept might lead to another.

One of my favorite ways to do this comes from A Whack on the Side of the Head, which I pose to students as: Imagine a world in which there is no gravity for one minute each day. What would the room we’re in look like? What would campus and Austin look like? What would humans look like?

Students go in all kinds of directions. Maybe humans would have tails or suction cups on their feet to prevent us from flying off when there is no gravity. Cars would all have to operate with magnets or like rollercoasters with tracks. Rooms might have to be padded. And so on. (I was once being observed by faculty peers for an annual review when I gave this exercise to students. The two faculty members ended up getting into an in-depth discussion of whether dresses could be modified to remain a feasible apparel choice.)

This exercise is always fun, and, once they get into it, students invariably enjoy the flexibility of discussing a topic in which there really aren’t any wrong answers. It helps them open up to sharing their ideas in general, which helps with any class. Do you have a fun in-class exercise or teaching tool you would like to share? Send it along to mackert@utexas.edu.