SIMAGES 2014.1 – Discrepant Events Create Teaching Moments

Discrepant Events Create Teaching Moments

By Becky Puckett

Becky is currently Training and Development Manager for the White Castle Corporation. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and a Master’s degree in Teaching.  She enjoys experiential learning techniques and making learning fun!  Becky led the session, “Blow them Away with Discrepant Events,” at the Sarasota conference last year.


The use of discrepant events in your training presentations can really give you that spark you’ve been looking for that will ignite your learner’s imagination, problem-solving abilities, and their enthusiasm.  Discrepant events are quick demonstrations that leave the viewer baffled by what they’ve just seen. The outcome of the event usually contradicts what they had previously thought would occur.  This leaves the learner engaged and eager to learn more.

Discrepant events were born in science education.  Most, if not all, discrepant events are science-based.  However, don’t worry if you don’t teach science.  Discrepant events can be used in any training presentation to reiterate to learners that things aren’t always as they seem, that you sometimes don’t have adequate information to make informed decisions, and that we sometimes have high or low expectations that can affect various learning outcomes.  Discrepant events can also help make lasting impressions of topics like time management skills, feedback mechanisms, motivation techniques and teamwork.  One thing is for sure, no matter which discrepant event you choose to perform, in the end, your participants will lend you more credibility and will forever remember your presentation.

Here is an example of a discrepant event.  It is technically and appropriately entitled, “The Jumping Flame.”  I have used this discrepant event to reiterate the power of teamwork and how one person can effectively fuel another person.  How else could you use this discrepant event to teach topics in your specific field?

The Jumping Flame

Participants:  any number

Time:  15 – 20 minutes


  • Candle
  • Matches



  1. Light the candle.
  2. Let the candle burn for a full minute to build some heat.  While it is burning, explain to participants that you can make a burning flame leap across space to relight the candle after it has been blown out.  Ask for initial reactions to your statement.
  3. Light a match.
  4. Blow out the candle.
  5. While the candle is still smoking, put the lit match in the smoke about one inch away from the wick.
  6. You should see the candle light as the flame jumps from the match to the candle wick.  If you don’t, move the match a bit closer to the wick.
  7. Ask participants to choose a partner.  Have them describe to their partner what they saw and to write a couple explanations for why it happened.  Invite pairs to share their explanations.
  8. Share your own understanding of what happened and why.  (See the Analysis section below.)
  9. Ask participants to make analogies between the phenomenon they witnessed and the topic you are teaching (rumors can jump around uncontrollably, it doesn’t tame much to ignite a good idea, some changes happen suddenly, etc.).  Add your own insights as appropriate.
  10. If time allows, distribute candles and matches and let participants experiment with the discrepant event phenomenon.



This occurs because the materials in the smoke from the candle are flammable (wax particles, carbon particles, etc).  When you place a match near the smoke, those particles will ignite and carry the flame back to the wick of the candle.

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