and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.
Course: Introduction to Weather and Climate
90 to 250 students
I cover the contents of the introductory chapter of the textbook in the following way:
I throw out an inflatable globe into the mass of students, have the students bat it around in the air, and I tell them periodically to "catch it." Then I pose the student who caught the globe with a question that addresses material in the opening chapter. The questions I use can usually be answered by looking at the globe, or by other students. I also ask each answerer to identify him/herself. This activity sets the tone for a participatory learning environment that is *fun* but does not skimp on intellectual content, and it also helps the students to begin to know each other.
Students enjoy the "earthball volleyball" exercise and some display considerable skills at spiking. I have learned through experience to tell the students in advance to put away all spillable or breakable items, and to avoid hitting the inflatable globe too hard... "Science is hard, but we don't want to have any first-day casualties," I tell them.
All of this goes along with my overarching philosophy about introductory science: it's far too important to take totally seriously. As with all other truly serious concepts in life–birth, death, sex, religion–science is best approached and learned in the low-anxiety context of humor.