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Teaching with Elan

This article originally appeared in the Harvard Gazette.

David Malan is standing before the audience in Longfellow Hall asking for step-by-step instructions to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. In front of him are all the ingredients: a loaf of bread and jars of peanut butter and grape jelly, along with a knife and a paper plate.

It doesn’t take long for the seemingly simple project to go awry, as people begin to shout out vague commands like “open the bread” and “put some peanut butter on it.” Malan proceeds to violently tear open the plastic bag and drop the entire Skippy jar on two slices of bread.

The exercise was lifted from his fifth-grade class, Malan ’99 said afterward, and was meant to demonstrate the importance of precise and measured thinking in the world of computer science.

A senior lecturer at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), Malan is best known for transforming CS50 from a fine but unremarkable introductory computer science course into a rock concertlike event, so popular that sessions have to be held at Sanders Theatre to accommodate the nearly 700 undergraduates who regularly sign up. ...

To read the complete article, visit the Harvard Gazette.


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