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Another item that I think it vitally important but often overlooked: put yourself in the mindset of your audience, particularly with respect to vocabulary. For every word you choose, ask yourself: does the person I'm speaking to know what this word means? It's really easy to lose sight of this because you (obviously) know what the word means, and so it's easy to assume that your audience does too. But they may not, and if they don't, then as soon as you say the word, you will lose them because you'll be going on but they'll be back on that word thinking, "What the heck does that mean?" This is particularly important in STEM education.

Grant Sanderson (3blue1brown) is a master at this. He will go out of his way to coin and define new vocabulary in order to sound less intimidating. My favorite example is his invention of "squishification" as a synonym for eccentricity when talking about ellipses. It's a much better word because it's friendlier, it doesn't have semantic baggage related to weird mental states associated with it, and no one can ever forget what it means.




That reminds me of a great technique for introducing diagrams. Say you're giving everyone a diagram of mitosis. Instead of giving everyone a labeled diagram, you give out a diagram with the labels removed. You ask everyone to make up a name for every thing they can see on the diagram that seems to be important. Then you ask them to use these names to write a caption for the diagram, or a caption for each step in the diagram.

You get some really funny sounding names and captions, but the point is people are processing the parts of the diagram and looking for what's happening in the diagram. They're engaging fully with the process that's being represented, rather than just accepting terms and descriptions that are being given to them. You don't need to go through this lengthy process for every diagram you share, but it's a great way to introduce diagrams about key processes.

To bring it back to the article, many talented teachers discover techniques like this, as I imagine Grant Sanderson did. But every teacher can be taught this technique.


Ya, please just use the real words.

I recall one "creative" biochemistry professor that was always using clever invented words and analogies. So I had to learn his bullshit and then the real word as well which made it twice as hard.


> invention of "squishification" as a synonym for eccentricity

I wish I could find a community with which to work on innovation like this. Instead, people largely work in isolation, without the benefits of collaboration. So for instance, I thought "squishification" didn't have quite the right emphasis - process rather than property - and wondered if something like "squishedness" might have been better. Perhaps a new ImproveThisExplanation subreddit, sort of a cross between ELI5, "What If?", and AskAScientist...???


I'd be very interested in such a community if it existed. I'd go as far as creating/hosting/maintaining such a place if needed.


I suggest starting with a Google Group. That's trivial to set up. I'd be interested in participating too.


I wonder what success looks like?

Here's another use case to add to "squishification". Some weeks back, I was exploring how temperature is taught, preK-12. I noticed that mention of 'Sun heats Earth' was wide-spread, but that 'Earth is cooled by the deep-space sky' was almost never mentioned. Half of the energy balance was ignored. So explanatory leverage is left on the table - "Why are nights cold? Especially with clear sky? Especially in the desert? Why are mountains snow-capped? Why is winter colder?" etc. It doesn't seem inaccessible - "Between bright hot Sun, too hot, and dark cold deep-space sky, too cold, Earth spins, mixing too hot, and too cold, into not too bad." Like a person huddled next to a campfire or heater, turning around to warm their back. Spacecraft "barbeque roll" thermal management. Earth's surface as thermal mass for peak smoothing.

Maturing the idea to that point, and then finding and fleshing out opportunities for leverage, benefits from a diversity of expertise. Physics, teaching (various ages), engineering, planetary geology, etc.

So I wonder if it would be useful to think in terms of not just discussion, but also of leveraging existing communities? Orchestration, federation, cross pollination. So bits about radiative cooling rates could go to PhysicsForums.com; about 'why the sky is cold' to /r/AskScienceDiscussion; about 'nice videos of spacecraft doing bbq rolls' to /r/spacex; about teaching aspects to... sigh, it's a mess of mailing lists and blogs and... well, maybe prototypes to teacherspayteachers?; and so on. All pointing back to someplace able to coordinate the input.

Thoughts?


I'd be interested. It'd be good to have a focussing project.


I added some meta discussion down the other subthread "below"...


Your first point was something I had never thought of until I started teaching Hispanic students last year. Most of them come from Guatemala, though we've gotten a few more from Mexico and Puerto Rico recently, and I never thought of how how difficult math must be until I tried to imagine myself in their shoes, trying to learn math through a second (for some, third) language that they often didn't even know well. Especially daunting when you're even discussing basic vocabulary that English-speaking students have heard forever that they might not know, which is something often taken for granted.

It's much easier this year, in my opinion, as my class consists solely of the Hispanic students, and is co-taught with the ELL teacher. This makes it much easier to go through things slower, and make sure they understand the vocabulary that I'm using, which has facilitated their learning.


Is it similar to parenting?




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