1994 Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute
Dialogues have a long and honorable tradition in education. Plato used them to communicate complex philosophy and Galileo used them as the format of two of his most important scientific works, the Two New Sciences and the Two World Systems. At first I thought of writing dialogues to be performed in front of a class, but then I became more aware of a situation in my classes that called for a different solution.
In a class of any size at all there are 'silent students,' often women or minorities, who attend but participate little if at all. There are also subjects which are not very interesting to present as lectures. Especially characteristic are 'fact laden' subjects. For example, I wanted students to learn about the physical and chemical properties of water as they related to biology. The freezing point, boiling point, temperature of greatest density, hydrogen bonds, surface tension, capillary action, specific heat, and on and on are things the students need to know but which I don't want to lecture about.
So I wrote a dialogue and announced to the class that I had decided to reform the drama. Until now the usual way to encounter a play was for a large audience to sit and watch as a small number of actors put on the play. This seems very passive to me, so instead everyone will perform the play simultaneously while a single person (me) watches this performance.
Students are asked to form pairs, and each one is given a script and, when necessary, some props. They are instructed to put on the play, delivering the lines aloud and following all the stage directions. I move around, encouraging students who aren't reading aloud and answering questions when appropriate.
The effect is relatively chaotic for an outside observer. Everyone reads at once. Some really get into it and move around in response to the stage directions. But they get to say things in the class without worrying whether they are correct or not; they encounter potentially dull material in an interesting way; and they take home a script which is also a set of notes for that day's material.
Principles of Dialogue Writing
The following dialogue is to be used in conjunction with the classic
paper of G.H. Hardy which first spelled out the principles of
the Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium. It is meant to elucidate the historical
issues and to introduce the idea of the equilibrium, but it is
not itself based on fact. I have no idea if Hardy and Yule ever
met, but if they did, this is how I would like it to have been.