The Oracle: How did you get the idea to do themed lectures?
Bill Dunbar: I had some topics in my physics classes that I dreaded teaching. For instance, consider simple harmonic motion. Every time I taught that topic in the physics class, my students looked super bored and it was really no fun. I decided to dress up my classroom one year and make a low-budget disco to talk about simple harmonic motion, and my students really liked it. So then I picked some other topics that were either hard to teach or otherwise not interesting to students and I tried to dress them up by doing low-budget themed lectures.
TO: What is developing a themed lecture like?
BD: It takes me a really long time to develop each themed lecture. I usually work on it for a year before it happens. I try to think about it and how to fit a certain theme to a certain physics topic so that it seems like it is a natural fit. For the Physics of Country Music, I actually went to go see a Western show and watched people do roping tricks so I could get some ideas for that.
TO: Can you describe what a themed lecture looks like for somebody who has never had them?
BD: I try to make my classroom different from the ordinary classroom. So, I dark- en the windows and try to make it a darkened environment so it doesn’t seem like another day in class. I usually play music, and that helps to set the atmosphere. It makes it so that students have trouble hearing and seeing but somehow it seems to work out okay.
TO: When and why did you come up with the honking mechanism? How does it work?
BD: I have several different electronic noisemakers in my classroom. A long time ago, at a different school, I wired up a noisemaker in a room so I could have animal noises in one corner and voices in the other corner. When I came to Gunn, I put a couple of things in. I have a buzzer for wrong answers, chime for correct answers and a doorbell. Recently, I got so tired of cars honking outside the windows that, with my students, I installed horns on the side of the building so we could honk back when cars are honking.