I just finished the audiobook for the autobiography of the legendary Physics Professor Richard Feynman. A fabulous listen, I have always been inspired by Feynman's contagious curiosity and desire to learn all things with a seemingly vicious intensity. I find myself also drawn towards a similar, addictive need, to ask questions and search for answers to things that others might find meaningless or not directly relate to vocation. Or perhaps, I'm trying to justify my late night YouTube deep dives. Either way...Feynman's spirit speaks to me and listening to his life story added an unexpected sense direction to my own midlife contemplations.
Through a lens of science instruction, I was endlessly inspired by the way Feynman's own personal sense of curiosity naturally mingled into his instructional pedagogy. That is, it was clear that he deeply values the question asking process and made it clear throughout the book that questions must precede any form of direct instruction or delivery of equations. My own passion for translating individual curiosity about the world into formal lesson plans was my motivation for this TED talk I delivered in 2013. This passion for "Delayed Direct Instruction" is intrinsic to the inquiry learning cycle and its efficacy in helping students develop conceptual models for understanding is outlined in the literature. Click here for example of the plethora of research articles that underscore the importance of questions BEFORE lecture.
The first 30 seconds of this clip from The Challenger Disaster, a film about Feynman's role in uncovering the the true cause of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, clearly demonstrates Feynman's inability to separate conceptual understanding and curiosity from instructional pedagogy. I could watch this clip all day long!
Perhaps the below quote sums up the purpose of this post and its relationship to Feynman best. I read the quote as Feynman challenging educators of today to find a way, despite the myriad forms of resistance, to figure out ways to spark student curiosity in search of authentic, conceptual understanding.
I think, however, that there isn't any solution to this problem of education other than to realize that the best teaching can be done only when there is a direct individual relationship between a student and a good teacher - a situation in which the student discusses the ideas, thinks about the things, and talks about the things. It's impossible to learn very much by simply sitting in a lecture, or even by simply doing problems that are assigned. But in our modern times we have so many students to teach that we have to try to find some substitute for the ideal. - Richard Feynman
Before every major assessment I like to facilitate review activities in class. That being said, I can only handle the Kahoot theme song so much, play so many games of "Chemistry Jeopardy", or figure out another variation of Periodic Table Battleship to satisfy review of the whatever skills we are learning that topic.
Not that there is anything wrong with the above games, or the myriad of variations. Indeed, if I played Kahoot everyday my students would be STOKED!
However, the above review games, in my mind, always fall short in one area: student creation/invention.
This is where Google Forms is a powerful tool! During the past unit on Formula Analysis, distributed a different problem to each team of students.
I then asked each of students to input their solution AND a Youtube video of them solving their problem on a whiteboard into a Google Form.
I then made the output spreadsheet public, and students spent time solving one another's problems, and watching one another's solutions when they were stuck.
Although not as superficially engaging as Kahoot, watching students invent videos to explain their problems, and negotiate not only the problem, but also how to teach it, was incredibly inspiring, and IMO, much more engaging from an outside perspective.
Although this post is represents an extremely simple application of Google Forms, one I'm sure many of you have already done before or experimented with in the past, the power of immediately sharing the output formula with students, containing live links to the videos THEY created, was worth sharing.
Click here for the Google Form and here for the output spreadsheet. See screenshots below as well.
Not a new idea at all, but I am always blown away by how productive class is when I assign a writing assignment and spend the class editing and providing feedback to all docs simultaneously. Today I pushed out this template, and groups of students relocated to a myriad of places on campus to complete their formal research article according to the template. I sat at my desk and provided feedback. Super fun. Super simple. Super meaningful. Below is a short video of the process. #embracethemess
After a two-week holiday I, and many of you, go back into the classroom on Monday. During this time I find myself getting up early (like right now) nervous and reflecting on how to, once again, reinvent myself in the classroom. The beauty and the torcher of teaching. #cognitivedissonance.
Below are 5 videos I find myself watching when I need reminders about the teacher I want to be. Some are about research, others remind me to delay direct lecture until students crave more information to fill a gap, while other remind me that simple activities can spark powerful realizations about how the world works.
This video reminds me that cheap tools can have a big impact.
This video reminds me to delay direct instruction until and I spark student curiosity first.
This video reminds me of the action research I hope to conduct in my classroom.
This video reminds me to encourage myself and my students to find new perspectives.
This video reminds me of the type of innovation I want from myself and my students.