They were an unconventional group of students in an institution designed for them. I was hired to teach them statistics, and was determined to make it fun for them. They didn't learn anything, and had a great time doing it.
Waiting for the bus to City College, my mind reaches back to the time I was teaching students at a place called Union Institute. It was one of my first teaching experiences, and the students were working toward their PhD in Clinical Psychology. It wasn't your typical university. The students would ask a teacher for their CV, send it to the school's central headquarters for approval, and then arrange for the class in any way that the teacher chose. The structure was very loose and relaxed.
Union, I'd soon learn, was great for students who didn't fit into a traditional university environment. One of the students I taught had narcolepsy, and Union allowed him to schedule classes at a time when he was least likely to have a sleep attack. Another student, who became a close friend of mine, had ADHD. With Union's flexible format she could work at her own pace and in a way that fit her learning style. Her research interest, motivated by her own past, was about whether Ritalin use in childhood predisposes you to stimulant drug addiction in the future.
In a typical 'class', I'd assign a student a chapter from a textbook in Biological Psychology, and at the end of the week we'd meet and discuss it. Too unstructured? Not enough oversight regarding standards? Could be. But I didn't worry about it. All my experiences with the Union students were great. It would be several years before I started teaching at Columbia. At the time, I was doing postdoctoral research and had almost no teaching experience. So I was glad for the opportunity to teach, and also happy to make some extra cash. Besides, the flexible Union approach fit my own preference for a relaxed learning environment.
In the last class I taught for Union, several of the students whom I'd taught individually asked me to give them a group class in statistics, one of Union's required courses. I knew that they were not big fans of math and were approaching this class with trepidation. So I decided to make it as fun as possible. I'd come up with games, they'd pull numbers from a hat, roll dice, and somehow we'd use those experiences to talk about statistics. We'd start with the basics - means, medians, variance; then we'd talk about sample distributions and population distributions. But always with fun, hands-on examples.
Toward the end of the class, they told me "Jon, I never knew statistics could be fun!" When it was all over, they all applauded. It was a great experience.
When I graded their exams, I found out that they hadn't learned very much at all! But they had a great time doing it.