Eleanor Loiacono: The PB&J example is sticky!

Filed in engaging students in class, first day of class by on October 14, 2016 0 Comments

eloiaconOne example I use in both undergraduate and graduate MIS courses on the first day of class is the making of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I lay out a table cloth over a desk and then place a plate, napkin, knife, fork, spoon, jar of peanut butter, loaf of bread, and jar of jelly. I then tell the students that they will need to instruct me on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and that I will not speak during the task. You can imagine what happens next.

The students start shouting out orders like open the bread. In response I rip open the bag and have bread fly all over. When they ask me to put jelly on the bread, I put the entire jar of jelly on the bread. You get the point. When someone, trying to be funny, tells me to stick my hand in the peanut butter, I simply ignore them. After about 15-20 minutes, we get something that looks like a PB&J sandwich no one would want to eat. My hands are a bit of a mess too.

We then discuss what happened. Some of the points that get brought up are as follows:

  • How important communication is.
  • Would it be better to have agreement before telling me what to do or simply have people shout stuff out. Should there be a leader that all commands go through.
  • How it is helpful to show people what the end result is you are looking for—some who didn’t grow up in the US have no idea what a PB&J is supposed to look like, so don’t even know how to do it. Other, who did grow up eating PB&J have very set ways in how one should be made—a few friendly fights have arisen.
  • This brings up cultural issues.
  • Bright students often ask, can I make a sandwich for you so you can see what it is supposed to look like?
  • Just because you tell someone to do something, doesn’t mean they will do it. They might think it is bad for them or they don’t have faith in your leadership. You need to help people understand why it is good to do it a certain way.
  • How people have different processes for even putting a PB&J together—some open all the ingredients, layer the ingredients (bread, PB, and jelly), and then cut the sandwich. Others open ingredients as they are used (bread, then PB, which they then spread on the bread, before moving to the jelly).
  • Etc.

The best part is that it gets people relaxed and I can always use it in the class to bring home points throughout the rest of the course (e.g., “Do you remember in the PB&J example what happened?” I have alumni, who when they talk to me still remember the PB&J example.

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