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Teaching and Learning (Follow Up to Our Learning - Part 1 Article)

Teaching and Learning (Follow Up to Our Learning - Part 1 Article)

Jul 4, 2016 News Archive
Teaching and Learning (Follow Up to Our Learning - Part 1 Article)

In our January 2016 newsletter article LEARNINGPART ONE I explored the importance of play in learning and how it can open up possibilities we might not otherwise consider. In this article, I link the concept of “play” to the idea of teaching to inspire curiosity and exploration.

As many of you know, I am a graduate of the University of Houston’s engineering department (Civil & Environmental Engineering), which is where Dr. John Lienhard created The Engines of our Ingenuity, a well-known radio program on NPR “that tells the story of how our culture is formed by human creativity.” I never had the privilege of taking a class from Dr. Lienhard, but I have long been an admirer of his approach to teaching. In this article, I use two of his stories exploring teaching, and relate them to my own teaching approach, both at UH and at 3DENT.

The first story from Engines (No. 1459: TEACHING AND AMBIGUITY) compares the lasting effects of two teachers. The first teacher is known for clarity, having the students leave the class with perfect notes. The second teacher is known for presenting “stray thoughts spinning about a central theme, a great sunspray of disorganized ideas.” The second Engines story (No. 2967: IN PRAISE OF CONFUSION) asks us to compare teachers who have touched our lives with the most-clear and understandable teachers and concludes that the two categories seldom intersect.

In the second story, we are introduced to Veritasim, a website by Derek Muller that features incredible demonstration experiments, and to the Exploratorium, a museum in San Francisco that purposefully confuses visitors. The Exploratorium is the legacy of Frank Oppenheimer (a physicist and little brother to Robert Oppenheimer, the leader of the Manhattan project).

Both of these stories reinforce my strong belief that the role of a teacher is not necessarily to “teach,” but rather to provide guidance and support in order to inspire learning. This approach, in my opinion, requires a very strong commitment on the part of the teacher, as students are usually convinced that he/she will fail when left to figure things out instead of being specifically guided through the process. The key ingredient, I believe, is to demonstrate to the students/employees that you care and are willing to support them as they solve problems on their own. This approach also requires a strong sense of self, as many times the teaching flows from the students/employees to the “instructor.” I strongly believe that the rewards of this non-linear (and sometimes chaotic) approach are palpable, especially when the students buy into the approach and are willing to explore as they learn.

Let me know what you think of all this. And, if you had any teachers that changed your life in little or big ways, find them and let them know the impact they had on you!

I would like to leave you with five more of my favorites episodes from the Engines series (in no particular order). Some of these are not by Dr. Lienhard, as he now has a number of collaborators. I hope you enjoy them!

No. 32: WRIGHT AND LANGLEY (getting the record straight on first flight)

No. 3015: HOOKE AND NEWTON (the source of Newton’s inspiration for gravitational theory)

No. 983: JOHN FORBES NASH, JR. (A beautiful mind)

No. 2985: RELATIVE ACCURACY (maps made for understanding rather than for accuracy)

No. 68: A QUESTION OF SIZE (related to scale model testing)