Enthusiasm Engineer Helps Students Care about Learning

"If you’re going to ask students to show up, you’ve got to make it worth their while to be there," says Jeff Goodman, a senior lecturer in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Appalachian State University. "What happens in the classroom has to matter," he continued, "it can’t just be information."

So Goodman creates events and situations in the classroom so students will have a shared, memorable experience that can be used as a springboard into more abstract concepts. "I think of myself as an enthusiasm engineer," he said, "and my job is to connect students with content. The content is already out there, and I have to help them care about it."

Goodman said there are a variety of different ways to help students learn something abstract, and he often starts by building things up from a real physical experience that all students in the class can share. To learn about the physics of sound, for example, he has students hang oven racks from their fingers, put their fingers in their ears, and strum the racks with a variety of objects.

"Activities like that are a great example of the Universal Design for Learning principle of using multiple means of engagement," Dr. Kate Brinko, director of faculty and academic development at Appalachian. "Providing various resources and challenges not only captures attention but stimulates learning, concentration and effort."

This approach works in the many courses Goodman has taught over the past 20 years and serves as a model for those students who take his classes in the College of Education.

"Jeff Goodman uses many different types of strategies to instruct students," one student wrote. "First, he involves every student in the classroom either to demonstrate tasks or to ask them for their knowledge and intellect. Second, he constantly forms questions to advance the conversation when conversing with the student one-on-one or in a whole class setting. He asks simple questions like who, what, when, where and why but takes it a step further.

"At first this absurd questioning was frustrating because I had not yet gained the mindset of answering questions of this degree. After I began to master this mindset," the student continued, "it made me want to advance my own knowledge. Not only to answer the question, but to actually know the answer. I question everything now. It makes homework and studying longer, but I have gained so much knowledge."

For Goodman, that type of learning is the ultimate goal. "I want my students to care about learning and have a sense that they are successful. I want them to know in their heart that they can learn and associate the experiences of learning with pleasure and enthusiasm. That will serve them for the rest of their lives."

Some of Goodman’s teaching methods have been documented in a College Star module at "http://www.collegestar.ecu.edu/modules/pse/introduction. For more examples of how Goodman maintains his role as an enthusiasm engineer when it comes to science, check out his Human Wonder Research Facebook Group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/257679657625782/.