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Teaching vs Learning [pedagogy]


I came across an excellent talk by Carl Wieman (2001 Physics Nobelist) on how to teach the ability to do science, Science Education in the 21st Century: Using the Tools of Science to Teach Science (@MIT; @iTunesU). This lecture was apparently delivered in 2008, but I just stumbled across it in iTunes. The actual lecture starts around the 7 1/2 minute mark.

In the talk, he describes in detail what the difference is between learning the traditional way and learning to do science, and even more importantly, gives pointers to how one might go about achieving the latter. It is a sad fact that even with the best teachers, the way things are taught in classes now results in the students regressing in their command of the subject. He talks about how to avoid the trap of cognitive limitations, and get students to learn the right things. In this, he actually gives concrete suggestions about methods and processes on how to teach “doing science” that I had alluded to vaguely in my talk to the IPSC.

Richard Feynman is once said to have pointed out that the best teaching is done when the student doesn’t need it. Carl Wieman’s talk goes a long way to demonstrate why that is so.

It is important to point out that there are no quick fixes or easy outs here. There is no substitute to hard work, to exercising the brain diligently on the principles and procedures of the subject being taught. But most of that effort must come from the students, and the teacher’s main job is to guide that learning through intensive interactions. This is, after all, kind of how grad school works.