Sunday, November 15, 2015

Dank memes

It's impossible to participate in social media without being inundated with images emblazoned with captions that overlie the images. These are not factually captioned photographs. These are humorously graffitied screen-captures or illustrations commonly referred to now as Internet memes ("meems"). The term, meme, refers to something else.

They are a sort of lexicon in Twitter, Facebook, and the like. A cultural fad, or here to stay? Who knows. In the meantime, I dipped a toe in.

I was first compelled to create a few in support of my "Equation, Rearrange, Substitute, Answer" recipe for students to use when solving problems. But the craft is limited only by one's creativity and comedic skills.

After posting a few in class, students wanted to join in. But they don't always have the same sense of decorum and propriety that sets boundaries on what a classroom teacher might feel comfortable posting.

One student aficionado referred to top-quality caption/images as dank memes ("may-mays"). I thought he was making it up until I found an online urban dictionary pronunciation. Dank meme can also be a sarcastic term for old / overly done memes.

When creating memes, the reflexive urge s to create "nag memes".

Encouragement meme are harder to produce. The encouragement element cuts against the sarcasm/humor element. One does one's best.

But wait. Why not make some with a physics theme?

I think it's important to "save a blade for yourself". It's no good to criticize the world with nag memes while holding yourself above the crowd. Easy? Yes. Comforting? I suppose. Good? No.

It's important to remember in all cases where social media and teachers intersect. I'll illustrate with news item headlines:

Teacher awarded prize for poignant Facebook post

Teacher fired following controversial tweet

One of these headlines is plausible. The other will never appear above a real news item. For teachers, there are two outcomes possible when participating in social media: nothing or negative. There are no positive outcomes. Only negative. Or—at best—none.

I generally trust colleagues to their best judgment to avoid creating memes that border on racism, sexism, etc. But at the last YouTube Physics session I hosted, a colleague traveled to The University of Minnesota AAPT SM14 and come to the session just to share this gem, which he thought was a great thing to show students in a physics class. So… yeah. If AAPT ever does a YouTube Physics session, it would probably be best not to use the "open mic" format.

So remember,

And be careful. You'll do better connecting the message to students if you know what the common use of a particular meme is. Once you know what the standard use is, you can bend it to your own use.

Here is a Dropbox link to the memes I've created: Memes

And I would be remiss if I didn't provide a link to Buzzfeed's 61 Best Teacher Memes.

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