Mark Ryder: Bringing Magic to the Classroom

By Jyoti Madhusoodanan

Periodontal disease is no fun, but that doesn’t mean learning about it can’t be.

For more than 35 years, Mark Ryder, DMD, a professor in the School of Dentistry’s Department of Orofacial Sciences, has been devoted to engaging his students during long lectures. His trick: performing magic routines to illustrate complex scientific concepts.

“I always try to put myself in the perspective of the student,” says Ryder, who heads the Division of Periodontology. “They’re probably going to get a little burned out towards the end of the day, or even at the beginning of the day when they’re just trying to wake up. And I thought, ‘What can I do to just keep their attention, and also to reinforce some of the most important concepts I’m trying to get across in the lecture?’”

One of his favorite tricks is a classic cup-and-ball routine, with the balls representing bacteria accumulating in the pocket between the gums and teeth. “I can tell a whole story of periodontal disease, which is my specialty, as a series of magic tricks,” he says.

The bottom line, Ryder explains, is making sure his students are stimulated and entertained while learning to help them retain the concepts they’ll need to apply in their dental practice. Magic isn’t his only extracurricular talent – a national trivia champion (he’s appeared on “Jeopardy,” “Super Password” and other TV game shows), Ryder also incorporates fun trivia and quizzes into his lectures.

“There’s a famous director, Frank Capra, who said there are many sins in the world, but the greatest sin is dullness. So I try to keep things interesting.”

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