On a recent morning at Smith Middle School, science teacher Rich “Dr. Bro” Broggini is standing on his head in the lobby, singing “Happy Birthday” to a student.
The child’s mother is nearby, taking videos with her cell phone. Her son, she explains, has a summer birthday and missed out on Mr. Broggini’s ritual of celebrating his students’ birthdays by singing to them while standing on his head.
It’s one of the many ways the personable and upbeat 8th grade physics teacher connects with his students to keep them interested and engaged in a subject so many kids find daunting or boring.
But for most students, his most engaging tactic is his daily joke.
Q. Why did the cell phone wear glasses to school? A. It lost its contacts.
Every day, in every class, Dr. Bro starts the lesson with a Q&A style joke, usually connecting it to whatever lessons the kids are getting, either in his class or in one of their other classes.
It came about organically, Dr. Bro says. He liked to tell the occasional joke to students and then one day decided to tell one before starting his class. The corny one-liner got as many chuckles as groans from the kids, but the next day they demanded: “What’s the joke of the day?”
And so, a popular routine was born. Dr. Bro says he tries to come up with jokes that have some kind of science component to them. But he also checks out what his students are learning about in other classes so he can tailor his barbs to other lessons.
Q. Why was the expecting English teacher yelling Shouldn’t, Wouldn’t, Can’t? A. She was having contractions.
It became such a hit students started offering up their own jokes for his use. Sometimes Dr. Bro even calls on the students to tell the Joke of The Day before class. Last year, at his students’ urging, he collected all of the jokes into a paperback book that got published last year. “Dr. Bro’s Joke of The Day For School” was illustrated by some of his students and is available on Amazon for $5.99.
Q. How do cows travel through time? A. They don’t go to the future, they go to the PAST-ure.
And yes, Dr. Bro is aware his jokes are corny, but says that’s what makes them so perfect for a middle school audience. He even got a small cymbal and drumstick so that someone in the audience can do the obligatory “Badum-dum” drumroll after a joke.
Q. What do you call a dinosaur in a car accident? A. A Tyrannosaurus-WRECK.
The jokes add a bit of levity and joy and makes the process of learning more approachable. Telling them, he says, is part of his overall philosophy of having fun while learning.
“My wife says being an 8th grade teacher is the perfect profession for me because it matches my maturity level. But there’s a little bit of a class clown in everyone and if you can tap into that, it’s golden.”
This past year he and his students produced a music video that teaches basic scientific theorems. He even got other teachers and administrators to take part in the production. You can watch it on Youtube by searching “Can You Dance Science?”
Dr. Bro is a former chiropractor who became a teacher about 30 years ago. He was a recent recipient of the Presidential Award For Excellence in Science Teaching.” He’s been teaching at Smith Middle School since it opened in 2001. He lives in South Glastonbury with his wife, Kathy. The couple has three grown children, Matthew, Kristen and Lauren.
Q. Why do students have trouble learning astronomy? A. Because it’s over their heads.