05 March 2013

How Dance Dance Revolution helps me relate to my students.

Before I met him, my boyfriend Matt spent a lot of time honing his technique at Dance Dance Revolution (DDR). Even after taking time off from practice, he still receives favorable scores while playing at expert level. More importantly, he very much enjoys playing and incorporates it into his rotation of cardiovascular exercise options (playing several songs at a challenging level really does get the heart rate going).

I'm always game to learn new things, especially games (see what I did there?), so I allowed him to drag me out to the arcade a few months back to gain some personal experience with DDR. A few songs convinced me that it might offer a way to blow off steam after sitting at my computer all day. Thankfully, Matt also possesses a home system for use with PS2, so I can play to my heart's content without waiting for other people or having to purchase tokens for an arcade machine.

The best part of playing DDR at home is having a smaller audience watching my sad, clumsy attempts to achieve passing scores on even simple songs. My coordination is suffering from such a narrow focus on mental rather than physical skills. That alone is frustrating. What's truly infuriating at times is having to switch the skill level back to beginner after watching Matt play his turn, and then still feeling like a drunken newborn giraffe as I attempt to translate arrows and music from the game to movement of my feet.

It's easy to fall into a trap of believing that, because one excels at some (or even many) things, all other activities of interest will be as easy to partake. I rely on intuition and a natural knack for understanding and interpreting broad patterns, which makes evolutionary biology a good fit for my brain. DDR, however, does not come without effort to my feet. In fact, it takes a great deal of effort.

Next time a student comes to my office hours to ask about a homework assignment, I'm going to remember my flailing attempts to play DDR. I'm going to answer that student's questions patiently, and explain concepts as many times and in as many ways necessary for them to understand. I've been studying phylogenetics for a decade now, and perhaps I take my knowledge for granted. My students need a little help, and I'm happy to be there to assist as they take their first steps toward understanding.

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