Storytelling to Introduce Applications of Laplace Transforms

“…and they couldn’t send the satellite up! Those big solar panels! Won’t fit in the rocket! If, in any way, they can pack it in the rocket – like we lazy souls pack our dresses when we go for a trip – and pull it out in the Outerspace and iron it back to the original shape!”

The story continued to talk about they used origami to fold the solar panels and used the rocket to transport (or process) it to the Outerspace, where they successfully unfolded it back to its original. Just like how Laplace Transforms helped us “transform” a differential equation into a ‘normal’ (algebraic) equation, thus solving it faster, transforming it back to the real world.

In another class, there was an alien from a world with purple sun and square stars who could multiply faster than us. Columbus’s search for India and sending a “big” file through the mail by compressing… same topic, different stories!

A few months later, I asked the first PG class: “Did anyone here know me before you joined PG?” A student said, “Yes, sir! Most of my batchmates remember you as the sir who taught ‘Laplace Transforms’. We still remember the story fresh in our minds!

Last semester, a few colleagues asked me, “We heard you used a story to introduce Laplace transforms – can you tell us how?” I was more than happy to share it with them – later, a few students from the junior batch came and told me excitedly, “Sir/ma’am used a story in class! It was so nice!”

A friend, concerned about me losing one of my unique selling points, was quick to protest: “That was your thunder – why did you let them steal it?”

I had only one reply: “Yes, it might have been – but my thunder is in framing such stories, and I’ll keep framing them and sharing it – if it makes students and their learning experience better!”

My involvement in the Open Source Movement during my school days tempted me to keep all resources I generate public and freely available. Any teacher who aspires to invest more into teaching can reuse them – giving them more time to prepare for the class than wasting time and energy on these trivialities. Another advantage is that public review helps me make my content better. I argue for a cooperative environment in the classroom – how can I then avoid it in the staff room?

There are also Maths Nazis who strongly disagree with this approach. “Teaching-learning should be a serious process,” one said. Another strongly believes any motivation in mathematics should come only from maths, not from “such stupidity like stories”. I’d call them Nazis because they don’t just believe in an ideology; but also can’t accept opposing views/are very irrational in their response to them.

But I believe it depends on the students whom you’re addressing. If you’re addressing motivated students, this may be a mistake. Otherwise, I think stories are the best way to seal any ideas in the majority of students’ minds – especially in this case – where it conveys the essence of the lecture in a few minutes.

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