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The Puppet Master of Statistics

Jan 23, 2017 |

You may know senior instructor Mike Marin as the flesh and blood man who helped you pass SPPH 400.

But thanks to a Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund grant, Mr. Marin is taking on puppet form to teach statistics in an interesting and engaging way.

The first in a series of three videos goes live today and features a puppet Mr. Marin teaching three fundamental statistics concepts in a paper world populated by cardboard fish, bears, and paper god of the sea (and teaching assistant) Neptune.

Mr Marin is part of a group of 12 UBC faculty members from various departments who teach introductory statistics. The group applied for the grant in order to create material to support flipped classroom teaching, where students learn concepts in their own time and spend class working on examples or things they did not understand.

Mike Marin

Senior instructor Mike Marin

The videos will be used in SPPH courses, amongst others, this year and, ultimately, will be available on a dedicated platform provided by the group, along with similar materials, accessible by anyone. Mr Marin hopes the videos will give students a solid conceptual foundation in the relevant concepts while punching up what is not always the most titillating of subjects.

“I hope people will learn something without feeling like they’ve learned something.”
Senior instructor Mike Marin

While Mr Marin wrote the scripts and recorded the voice overs, the puppets were largely the idea of MedIT, hired through the grant funding, he says.

With other videos competing for students’ attention, MedIT senior video and digital media producer Zachary Rothman says they decided to do something no one else was. He says the puppets, made by a local puppeteer, provide a more human connection than digital elements could, and the group plans to use them in future projects – they have already received several requests to do so off the back of Mr Marin’s videos.

“We decided to do something that was as far from anything else anyone had done as we could.”
MedIT senior video and digital media producer Zachary Rothman

Filming took about a week, finishing in October, while the set, based on the Museum of Anthropology and measuring twelve by eight by twelve feet, took local company, Enigma Arcana, about a month to build. In comparison, Mr Marin’s voice-over recording took just one day. MedIT’s services also included guiding Mr Marin’s voice acting when he needed to sound hyperbolic.

“You have to over-exaggerate, sounding more scared or more excited than you are, which is a challenge, especially when you’re standing alone in an empty room.”
Senior instructor Mike Marin

But Mr Marin is accustomed to voicing videos and teaching statistics online – he runs just such a Youtube channel with his wife, Master of Public Health alumna Ladan Hamadani, that has 3.6 million views in more than 200 countries. The videos have even inspired thank you notes from the likes of the Smithsonian.

He says he would like to make a few more puppet videos, depending on whether the group’s funding is renewed, but will continue making statistics videos, marionettes or no. As for whether he plans a new career in the puppetry of statistics? “I’m hoping to land a part in Toy Story 4, or possibly as the male voice for Siri.”

Click here to view the first video.

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