A nice piece from PhD+epsilon on assigning work towards the end of the semester and giving extra credits to those activities to help students perform better in the course. I especially loved the one about making students read a novel and use that experience to teach:
Ender’s Game as a motivational tool: This is actually not something I have done, but my friend and fellow math prof Brian Katz has used it to great success in many of his classes. Ender’s Game is a sci-fi novel by Orson Scott Card, about a young boy who is recruited to be a soldier in a space war with evil space bugs (it is actually quite good, if you’re into sci-fi, and if you’re reading my blog, then you probably are). Brian sees himself mirrored in the character of the instructor. This instructor puts all his young recruits through horrible, grueling training, and the kids don’t quite understand why they’re doing what they’re doing until way at the end of the book (and I won’t spoil it for you here).
Brian has his students read the book and then come in to his office and talk about it. He has this great way of asking his students questions that guide them to understand that they’re like Ender, the hero of the book, and that he’s like the instructor in the book. The students seem to have a much better idea of why Brian is doing what he’s doing, but he never has to find the perfect way to explain it. Rather he has them discover, through reading fiction, what his philosophy of teaching and learning is.
As a side note, Brian teaches many of his classes using inquiry-based learning (something I will definitely write about at some point). The main object of this teaching style is to show students to learn by doing, and in that sense it really is like learning a sport, learning to play an instrument, or training for a space war with evil space bugs.