Hey science teachers — make it fun

26

High school science teacher Tyler DeWitt was ecstatic about a lesson plan on bacteria (how cool!) — and devastated when his students hated it. The problem was the textbook: it was impossible to understand. He delivers a rousing call for science teachers to ditch the jargon and extreme precision, and instead make science sing through stories and demonstrations.

Tyler DeWitt recognizes that textbooks are not the way to get young people interested in science. Instead, he teaches science by making it fun and fantastical.
Written By: Tyler DeWitt
continue to source article at ted.com

26 COMMENTS

  1. “DNA is like a blueprint”

    Argh!

    As for the like-Wikipedia-but-simpler website that he wants, may I suggest Simple Wikipedia? It probably doesn’t have all topics in science yet, but that’s amenable to change.

  2. Prof. Brian Cox is also fantastic in communicating the difficulty in understanding the more academic points in science. Since Wonders of the Universe hit the screens, so many of my friends have commented on how good he is at putting science into laymans terms. Well done that man.

    • In reply to #3 by Chico2004:

      Prof. Brian Cox is also fantastic in communicating the difficulty in understanding the more academic points in science. Since Wonders of the Universe hit the screens, so many of my friends have commented on how good he is at putting science into laymans terms. Well done that man.

      Well, Brian Cox and his team of writers, but yes. I think the show he fronts is excellent, and I’m sure he puts a lot of his own ideas on presentation into it.

  3. Deffo. In fact he always manages to get you to think about science in a new way. In wonders of life he ties together biology with cosmology in a way nobody has managed since Carl Sagen, somebody I know from radio interviews he admires greatly.
    In reply to #3 by Chico2004:

    Prof. Brian Cox is also fantastic in communicating the difficulty in understanding the more academic points in science. Since Wonders of the Universe hit the screens, so many of my friends have commented on how good he is at putting science into laymans terms. Well done that man.

  4. Although I enjoyed Tyler DeWit’s presentation very much and can see that he’s done a great job in engaging students, I think he needs to explain that he has simplified things, after the lesson. Warning: slippery slope argument coming up! Science is precise. Once you start taking liberties with the narrative it could descend into ‘storytelling’.

    By all means, employ the entertaining version first, to spark their interest, but then give the correct wording. I’m sure early teens will be mature enough to appreciate the difference and still manage to retain the concept.

  5. I was going to begin by worrying, much like some others, that to replace the majority of technical details would be to remove the actual scientific content of the lessons, but my mind has somewhat changed. When Tyler spoke of what could or couldn’t ruin a student’s chances of success in science fields, he was echoing the points that changed my mind.

    As much as I enjoy knowing the intricate, mechanistic, natural ways things happen in our universe – in other words, the sciencey details – I have to say missing some of the more technical aspects of certain fields isn’t ruining my science career. As a student of cognitive neuroscience, my education naturally draws on much from biology, chemistry, and even physics, and believe me, there’s more than enough nigh-on inscrutable technical detail as it is. But I’ve so far been able to perform my academic activites very well without, for instance, remembering much of the technical details of photosynthesis (which I encountered both in high school and introductory college biology).

    I suppose my point is that, when laying the groundwork for 1) a working understanding of science and the natural processes of the world, and 2) a lifelong appreciation for the explanatory power and the attractive fascination of science, it’s perhaps more pedogogically effective to tell the story of science with some accurate detail and some, maybe more, narrative simplification. Primarily, this reduces the chances of alienating students with heavy jargon and opaque syntax; secondarily, this improves the chances that students will subjectively feel satisfied or have their curiosity piqued by scientific questions and answers; and finally, this will keep students who might develop an interest in one particular field from being put off the whole shebang by the difficulty of learning a bunch of (potentially ultimately irrelevant) jargon specific to a wholly separate field.

  6. There is always the opportunity for learning, that would go like this. “But I thought that all of them contained DNA ?” “Well, MOST of them do. But some contain RNA instead.” “What is RNA, and why do only some have it ? How do you tell which ones are which, and what difference does it make ? ” “Well, let me tell/show you. Take a look at this chart I just drew…………”

    I see it as layering knowledge on top of knowledge. (Says a bear with little brain)

  7. I did all the sciences separately, in the UK they are now often lumped together as a double credit ( this is GCSE LEVEL 14-16) I am not sure that is a good idea, I loved biology, liked chemistry and yawned through physics. Lots of other students felt the same. Ironically my grades were biology B chemistry C and physics A.

    maybe all that yawning was getting extra oxygen to my brain?

  8. Science teachers need to blow things up!
    When I was at school (long time ago) every few years a teacher would drop a large lump of sodium into a buchet of water, in the middle of the evacuated playground. Everybody turned up to watch. And everybody remembers it. (Thank you Mr Rainbow.)

  9. I’ve just realised that Tyler is actually the new “Q” in the Bond movie Skyfall. Check out the cardigan. Although he must have had a hair cut before going to TED. Is this cool or what?

  10. I’m not yet convinced that in order to make science understandable and interesting we have to give up on presenting it accurately.

    If you’re giving analogies that do not provide basically accurate understanding maybe your analogies are not good enough.

  11. In reply to #1 by stuhillman:

    You know that you are getting old when policemen and high-school teachers look like they’re 17.

    Or when some little granny wants to introduce you to her 16-year-old grandson —not realizing your over 40.

  12. In reply to #12 by Northampton:

    I’m not yet convinced that in order to make science understandable and interesting we have to give up on presenting it accurately.

    If you’re giving analogies that do not provide basically accurate understanding maybe your analogies are not good enough.

    So, are you actually that 87.3 miles guy?

  13. Hey, don’t knock it. Real life has a way of intruding into our fantasy world. Grab what ever you want.

    Or when some little granny wants to introduce you to her 16-year-old grandson —not realizing your over 40.

  14. In reply to #15 by OHooligan:

    In reply to #12 by Northampton:

    So, are you actually that 87.3 miles guy?

    No. The guy mentioned by the speaker is most likely an irrelevant idiot miming precision with numbers he cannot know.

    Precision is what sets science apart from astrology and “I have my own theory of atomic expanding electro-gravity” loons. So I get a little on edge when people deride precision. It is equivalent to deriding knowing something. Never good.

    So of course there is no need to show children how to solve second order partial differential equations when telling them about atoms. But we should fill them with excitement about one day being able to calculate, with precision, the way an atom works.

  15. I didn’t watch the video, but read the comments and the article. I think that precision is vitally important in science, but isn’t necessarily all that important for high school and younger students. Coming from a typical education in a public high school in Flagstaff, Az, and then pursuing a bachelors and masters in engineering at ASU, I can say that my profound interest in science wasn’t really sparked until college (and I almost became a business student because of this lack of interest). Get high school students interested in pursuing science, along with some good groundwork, and let them learn the details in college. Those that get inspired in the classroom will learn on their own too, as I’m sure most of us have through the writings of Dawkins, Coyne, Shubin, Krauss, etc… And what’s it going to hurt? Science education is lacking in this country already as evidenced when a CNN anchor says, on national public television, the following;

    “Talk about something else that’s falling from the sky and that is an asteroid. What’s coming our way? Is this an effect of, perhaps, of global warming, or is this just some meteoric occasion?” CNN’s Deborah Feyerick asked Bill “The Science Guy” Nye, head of the Planetary Society, in a Saturday segment.”

    What a disgrace…

  16. In reply to #17 by Northampton:

    In reply to #15 by OHooligan:

    In reply to #12 by Northampton:

    So, are you actually that 87.3 miles guy?

    No. The guy mentioned by the speaker is most likely an irrelevant idiot miming precision with numbers he cannot know.

    I understood that part differently. He was the irrelevant pedantic OCD person who’d actually clocked the journey on the odometer. Meaning, he was, actually, precisely, accurate, but still irrelevant.

    Precision is what sets science apart from astrology and “I have my own theory of atomic expanding electro-gravity” loons. So I get a little on edge when people deride precision. It is equivalent to deriding knowing something. Never good.

    I don’t think he was deriding precision, he was promoting “good enough” approximation, with large doses of common sense in terms of how the target audience would react. None of the stuff was lies, or inappropriate approximation. I did see his point about the science textbook, it was utterly unreadable, therefore useless for the stated purpose of education. So its accuracy is in the end unimportant.

    So of course there is no need to show children how to solve second order partial differential equations when telling them about atoms. But we should fill them with excitement about one day being able to calculate, with precision, the way an atom works.

    Yes, exactly. It’s the filling with excitement part that has to come first. Else there won’t be any followup.

  17. I think this is good advice. It has been my experience that any complex subject requires me to be in the dark about some details that impact my current studies, but which cannot be fully appreciated until much more has been learned. Thankfully in IT there are already lots of individuals and publishers using this approach.

    —-//—-

    In reply to #13 by QuestioningKat:

    Or when some little granny wants to introduce you to her 16-year-old grandson —not realizing your over 40.

    I’m not surprised. You don’t look a day older than your third life.

  18. This is true; so much of a biology student’s time is spent on memorizing terminology, that they do not see the big picture, the “why”. In my biology class, most students know what a polymerase enzyme “is” and what it “does”, but fail to undertand how DNA transcription and translation processes constitute a creature, or how the process of DNA replication spurs evolution through diversity. It is the full effect of such processes, not their constituent specifics, which will really benefit the understanding of a biology student.

  19. I agree with the points about precision and detail. However; I would also like to say that, as a high school student, I would much rather have the text book. I find it patronising and boring whenever my teachers oversimplify concepts or try to make them “fun”.

Leave a Reply