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Posts Tagged ‘science

Some might say that the YouTube video below is a good example of combining science and art.

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I agree. I would also add that such a combination creates perspective. This could mean helping us see what we could not before or seeing something unexpected as a result of the combination.

What we see projected as a shadow is another subtle message — there is one entity with severals sides, each of which is only apparent when we make the effort to change the perspective.

There is a thin line between simplifying something and dumbing it down. We do both for kids and students, but I wonder if we know where the line is.

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This was a sweet video of a father trying to help his young son deal with the recent and terrible attacks in Paris. In trying to explain that flowers had power over guns, he simplified very complex societal and world issues.

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This is an entertaining video about rocket science without using words from rocket science. I think it makes a sneaky point that you can only dumb things down so far.

If we simplify to the point of dumbing down, we might be entertained, but we might not actually learn something useful.

It is easy to dumb down. It is not easy to simplify.


This week I read a good critique of the way some science teachers in Singapore design test questions and grade them. The issues were a misplaced emphasis on rote learning (instead of inquiry) and the poor use of language (English and scientific) in setting test questions.

A parent wrote in to the ST Forum with a suggestion:

There seems to be something inherently wrong with how science is taught in primary schools today. Perhaps the time is ripe for a systemic review of the curriculum to address all these concerns.

This suggestion will not work alone. Curricular reviews and revisions tend to focus on content. That is only one piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

To see the whole picture, one needs to also factor in how teachers teach an academic subject (which is a function of pedagogy), and how they unlearn old habits in favour of learning new ones (professional development, leadership, incentives, and more).

A seemingly superficial or simple problem like stupid test questions or stubborn teacher behaviour has complex roots. The layperson does not dig as far and is not expected to. The real problem is when some schools, their leaders, and/or their teachers are not aware that they need to dig deep too.

Sometimes I wonder if the conversations that my wife and I have over dinner and YouTube videos have any impact on my son.

Yes, we watch YouTube videos and not television programmes over dinner. We talk about them and we unconsciously model communication and thinking skills for our son. This was not obvious to me until a recent father-son chat.

Every weekday I ask my son about his school day and his homework. Practically every day the answers are the same: Meh, boring, and arrgh!

Except one day. My son asked me why he had to perform science experiments to answer questions they already knew the answers to.

How many teachers or research scientists ask themselves this question? It was a particularly good question because it critiqued the purpose of doing experiments and the strategy for teaching science.

The standard response to this question might revolve around learning or practising the scientific method. But the core issue is really about whether the focus is developing a discipline or being driven by curious discovery.

Any good teacher would want his/her students to have both. That said, I would wager that most teachers would err on the side of content delivery and disciplined thinking. But what if the teaching of science as a discipline takes out the joy of discovery?

This is one reason why we have the dichotomy of formal learning in school and informal learning elsewhere. There are rules, methods, and objectives in school, but they typically suck the life out of learning.

Outside of school the learning is looser and practically undisciplined in the sense that it does not start or end with subject silos, specific instructional objectives, or time-tested strategies.

The latter sort of learning is like how a child catches values, listening skills, and thinking skills at a daily setting like dinner conversation.

We need both formal and informal channels, of course. But I would err on the side of the informal if they are going to help my son develop the mindset he needs for his future.

If reality can bite, then Science must be its teeth.

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This video is an introduction to an excellent TED Education series. The lessons were designed by Joy Lin, wonderfully narrated by James Arnold Taylor, and animated by Cognitive Media.

So would you rather have super size, super strength, or super speed? Perhaps being able to fly, become invisible, or be immortal are more up your alley.

Spoiler alert: Science will ground you in reality. But the more you know, the better. And you can wish for some other super ability.

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I enjoyed this video on Physics concepts simply because it was not delivered in the usual way.

There was no blackboard, no talking head, no PowerPoint.

Instead there were conversations, stories, interviews, anecdotes, and mini lessons.

If there were questions from a learner, they could be dealt with independently or in a classroom context. The questions or curiosity would be sparked by something said during the staged event or from an experience. The need to learn would not come from a fixed curriculum or paper test requirements.

In other words, the need know would drive the learning. The series of tests, all devoid of context, would not. This is the new and better way to teach.

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I recall the first time I was asked to define “pedagogy”.

It was not when I was a teacher trainee. It was not even while I was a teacher. It was when I was pursuing a Masters overseas 13 years ago and when I was no longer a classroom teacher.

Perhaps some wisdom had distilled from my experience as a teacher and so I defined pedagogy as the science and art of teaching. My instructor told me that she had never heard any of her students define it like that and asked if she could borrow that definition.

Here is what I really meant by the science and art of teaching. By science, I meant learning, applying, and testing theoretical principles much as a scientist would but with the classroom as an experimental laboratory.

By art, I simply meant practice, practice, practice. Not practice makes perfect as there was no perfect teacher. Practice as in honing the craft of teaching much like a painter or sculptor might get better by painting or sculpting.

That is why I like the video above that I discovered recently. It has helped me push my understanding of pedagogy one step further.

I liked how the narrator, Daniel Willingham, referred to the science of teaching as providing boundaries or markers of what teachers should do or could do [5min 54 sec mark].

So if you want a child to remember something, s/he should practice because that is a basic tenet of how we learn. The child could be drilled, play a game, or use mnemonics to remember. Those are just a few of many options.

That is why I like the analogy that teaching is like architecture. In designing buildings, an architect must operate by the rules of physics (should do), but s/he can also get creative (could do). And so creative sometimes that the rules seem to break.

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