In his course “Law in American Society,” an animation of folk singer Willie Nelson, designed by Dr. Samuel D. Hodge, strums his guitar as he explains the difference between public and private law.
Professor of Legal Studies at the Fox School of Business, Hodge’s use of such animations demonstrates his place as an innovative educator. Hodge recently was chosen by the Academy for Teachers to serve as its 2016 master teacher and will lead a program on innovation in teaching.
The Academy for Teachers is an annual selective conference in New York City that’s intended for teachers. One master professor, as chosen by the Academy, leads a lesson for a number of selected high school teachers on innovative strategies in teaching. Previous master teachers include Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and historian Henry Louis Gates Jr.; Pulitzer Prize in Music winner David Lang; and renowned social and political activist Gloria Steinem.
This year, Hodge will teach 18 high school teachers Jan. 8, 2016, at the one-day conference.
Hodge has taught a variety of undergraduate- and graduate-level classes in law and medicine at Temple University for more than 40 years. He currently leads a law lecture that consists of 400 to 600 students, which is considered one of the largest courses at Temple. To keep students interested in a class of that size, Hodge has had to get creative.
“You have to throw conventional wisdom out the window,” Hodge said.
Hodge developed multimedia presentations for his courses, consisting of self-created animations.
“Everything moves. Everything I say projects behind me on the board,” Hodge said, “but I actually have a cartoon Professor Sam, and he sings and narrates.”
The animations include a long list of celebrities. His latest is actor Jack Nicholson discussing various areas in law. Hodge has an art and music background. Since 1982, he has owned music-publishing company Eastwick Publishing, and he’s also produced illustrations for various medical books he’s written. So it was fitting, he said, that for his educational animations he’d write the songs, record the audio, and then create an animated character to perform them.
The best way to gain the interest of the “MTV generation,” he said, was through an audio-visual format.
“I call it edutainment,” Hodge said. “It is a combination of education and entertainment. People grew up in a visual format, so people want to be taught in that format.”
From a nominated group of 6,000, the Academy for Teachers selected 18 high school teachers that Hodge will educate. The “master class” can be given in any subject matter. The focus is to showcase unusual or innovative teaching techniques. Hodge will teach anatomy to the group of teachers in his area of expertise: AV format.
On the morning of the program, Hodge will teach the fundamentals of anatomy through song at the Museum of Natural History. He also plans to show the dozen-and-a-half teachers video of a heart being dissected. During the second segment of the day, the group will travel to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center, where he will take them into the lab to see a dissection first hand.
Joe Pangaro, a second-year teaching assistant in Hodge’s “Law and American Society” course and “Legal Environment of Business” courses, said Hodge’s passion for teaching is present daily.
“Every year, when a new set of TAs gets to know him and gets exposed to his workload, there is a period of shock when you are just in awe of how much he accomplishes in a day,” said Pangaro, a third-year law student. “When you find out he does not drink coffee, it seems all the more amazing, but then you spend some time with him and you realize it’s because he truly loves everything he is doing.”
Hodge hopes to impart to the high school educators a degree of fearlessness in their use of technology to demonstrate complex topics.
“This was a total surprise,” he said. “I didn’t apply for it, they just called me out of the blue one day. Then I saw the list of people who have been selected before me and I said, ‘Why am I within that elite group?’ But I am, and it’s exciting.”