Tyler DeWitt

Cambridge, MA, United States

Someone is shy

Tyler hasn't completed a profile. Should we look for some other people?

Comments & conversations

179420
Tyler DeWitt
Posted over 1 year ago
Tyler DeWitt: Hey science teachers -- make it fun
Young and naƮve! I appreciate the "young" part! Lawrence, we're not in disagreement. I'd never advocate teaching a higher-level college class through the techniques I discuss in this talk. But high school students who are 14 years old are completely different creatures than 21 year-old university students, and it frustrates many educators (myself included) when others criticize more accessible teaching methods targetted to 14 year-olds because they don't think they'd be appropriate for 21 year-olds. You want to be a serious university professor--that's fine. But for me to teach the very basics of my field and get the students to love science--that requires a completely different approach. I agree that learning isn't always a "fun" experience. But it should always be a rewarding experience. I wish the health club analogy were apt: people working out start with light weights and build up strength and work harder, and see results, and the cycle continues. But the view from where I teach looks very different. My analogy would be that much of schooling is like forcing horribly out-of-shape people to run a marathon they have no interest in participating in and have not trained for, and then screaming at them when they pass out from exhaustion after a mile or two. We've got to start somewhere, and we've got to start gently. Once students learn the "big picture," learning the details is a cinch. Once students enjoy a subject, they don't mind putting more and more time into studying it. At least that is what I see in my own classroom.
179420
Tyler DeWitt
Posted over 1 year ago
Tyler DeWitt: Hey science teachers -- make it fun
I think you're completely right when you say that it's a matter of the age of the children. I would definitely not teach college students using analogies and secret agent viruses, and I would jump in and be reasonably serious as you have described. But I think a major problem that has developed in science education is the pervasive notion that students who are 13 should be taught in the same, serious, humorless way that 20 year-old college students are taught. There is a huge difference between these two age groups. One of the reasons children are turned off from science education (at least in the United States), is because we approach education of young children the same way we approach education for those students who are in college. A college student who's taking science classes (for the most part) already understood the basics from earlier schooling--that's why they are electing to continue their study of science in college. They don't have to be convinced that science is fun, because they understand its value, and they already enjoy the subject. But by the time students get to college, most won't go near science, because they never learned the basics in a clear way, and they only learned to hate the subject. So in the early years, my focus is getting across the basics and teaching them that science is fun. My goal, in other words, is to teach them to love science and to understand the big picture, so that when they get into your class in college, you don't have to.
179420
Tyler DeWitt
Posted over 1 year ago
Tyler DeWitt: Hey science teachers -- make it fun
I respectfully but strongly disagree with you. The experience I've had teaching students over the years contradicts many of your assertions. If the students understand the basic big picture, they can ALWAYS learn the more complicated details later. Conversely, if the students don't fully understand the big picture, they will NEVER be able to understand more complex iterations of a topic. This is naturally how we learn all skills and knowledge. When you learned to drive, did you start out on an 8-lane super expressway at 85 miles per hour? If you're like me, you learned in a giant empty parking lot, or on an abandoned old road, driving at about 5 miles per hour. Once you are comfortable with the basics, you can then tackle more complex tasks; you can never drive on a super highway until you can drive slowly in an empty parking lot. You seem skeptical of using narrative to teach. Stories are an extremely effective means to communicate ideas, and analogies (though you may think they are trivial) are some of the best ways to build strong conceptual understanding. But stories are also a good means to get people to care. Most of my students came into my classroom hating science and not caring about it. If I can use stories and analogies to get them excited about science and get the big picture across, we can add in the more serious details later. Students who hate science will never be motivated to learn more. I disagree vociferously that the "damage was already done" because students couldn't understand the textbook. I understood it because I had a college degree in Biology; when I was 14, I couldn't understand a word of the textbook either. And finally, you seem to imply that learning science through stories will serve as a handicap to students. The only way I could learn science as a young student was through stories; I'm now a relatively successful researcher at MIT, so this mode of teaching certainly didn't do me any harm.
179420
Tyler DeWitt
Posted over 1 year ago
Tyler DeWitt: Hey science teachers -- make it fun
Thomas, I feel there's sort of an unspoken rule against commenting on your own talk, but I felt I had to reply to your comment for a few reasons. The most important is because it struck me as nearly the exact comment that I would have made myself--before I started teaching. I started teaching with a strong "blame the students; they should just do the work" attitude. I thought school should be challenging, and a good teacher should be strict and unforgiving. But then things started to change, and I got increasingly frustrated with current system in education. You say, "Do the work, kids." How about textbook reading at home? Students simply cannot understand the textbooks--they honestly could be written in another language. You can assign textbook reading and threaten to fail the students if they don't understand the material by the next day, and it's awful! It certainly doesn't help them learn. The kids will be crying and the parents will call and say that they stayed up all night with their kids trying in vain to understand and explain the textbook--and you know it's true! Secondly, I learned very quickly that unless students are having fun and learning the material in joyful ways, they won't engage, and they'll hate the subject and will never study it more. Why would any teacher want to instill a hatred of their field? I *hated* my own science classes in high school because they were about dry memorization of facts and processes, and that almost completely turned me off from science. I'm now a reasonably successful researcher at MIT, so I don't buy the argument that "unless students enjoy sterile memorization of definitions they'll never succeed in science." Because science *isn't* about facts and names--it's about creative thinking, answering and asking questions about the world around you. Sadly, some of the kids who get turned off by the joyless, uncreative nature of science education would make the best scientists.