Friday thread: Curriculum should be based more on asking questions than answers

Lawrence Krauss “When we teach students we are not trying to make clones of ourselves..”

  • Fortlands

    Krauss is spot-on about the need for science teachers (and all teachers) to excite their students with what they teach. He’s also right about the wonder and delight of not being bound by the curriculum – most valuable teaching happens down the by-ways (or is it bye-ways?) rather than on the main road. Unfortunately, in this enlightened part of the world, stray from the curriculum and you will be hung by your thumbs while your nether parts are devoured by wolves.

    His other point about rewarding teachers financially is also important – except that his proposed solution stinks. Give ALL teachers decent money, comparable with that in other professions. If we trust them with our most valuable possession, our children, don’t they deserve it? They don’t need a hyped-up version of the competitive market, red in tooth and claw.

  • Mick Fealty

    Spot on FL. I think it goes deeper than even that. One of the really exciting projects I’ve come across is the Coderdojo movement, which is where kids who move up the learning tree then spend some of their time teaching others.

    I’ve been talking to old friend and mentor on Google Plus on Wednesday evenings for the last three months or so. He has some interesting thoughts on education, and this contemporary political split between skivers and strivers. It’s a bit rambling, but I think you might find it interesting:

  • Old saw 1:

    Lecture: the process of transferring information from the notes of the lecturer to those of the lecturee, without passing through the mind of either party.

    Old saw 2:

    In a university, the lecturer enters, says “Good Morning”, and everyone ignores him
    In a technology institute, the lecturer enters, says “Good Morning”, and everyone writes it down in a notebook.
    In a teacher training college, the lecturer enters, says “Good Morning”, and everyone breaks into groups and discusses it.

    But you’ve heard all of that, and more, previously.

  • Cric

    About 3/4 of the way through this video my brain was thinking “this is all very well but we pay teachers peanuts” before Krauss came out and hit my own particular nail on the head.

    I love maths. I have always loved maths. I went to Pim Street Christian Brothers school in the New Lodge in Belfast and managed to make it to St Malachy’s College precisely because of my ability in maths – and despite of a distinct lack of ability in almost every other subject.

    Fast forward a decade and my love of maths brought me first into computer programming – and then into sports bookmaking (as in gambling). This has led to me spending the best part of the last 5 years working for some of the world’s biggest betting companies, building mathematical algorithms to predict the likelihood of individual outcomes on sporting events.

    As much as I love sport and I enjoy being paid to watch it constantly I can’t help but think that there could have been better ways to utilise the skills I have accumulated over these years – and academia has always seemed hugely attractive on a personal level.

    But the single biggest issue for me (and I am ashamed to admit it) is wages. Private sector companies will pay you handsomely for your skills while there is almost no money in academia. How am I supposed to deal with this? I mean teaching others and spending my time being creative towards a scientific goal feels hugely attractive – I’d love that – but I certainly don’t want to find it much much harder to cover my mortgage.

  • Clanky

    This obviously refers to the USA and I can’t comment on the education system there, but I have to say my own experience at school didn’t reflect this at all.

    I had some fantastically good science teachers who taught not “the answers” or “the questions”, but the process of getting from one to the other.

    It is all very well saying that we should not base the science curriculum on learning facts, but without those facts and the basic knowledge which they provide it is very difficult to get from question to answer so the facts have to be in there.

    He makes some good points, yes teachers should not assume that the kids are interested and should sell the subjects to them and make them interested, but we already have teachers who do that, yes kids should be taught to question rather than just recite facts, but they already are, yes teachers should be paid more, but take a look around at a broken economy.

    On the whole, the entire video came across to me as management speak, full of buzzwords with no real solution to the problem.

  • Clanky @ 7:08 pm:

    Precisely, with one exception: no curriculum [I guess that interprets as “syllabus” or “scheme of work”] should ever be just “factual”. We are not Mr Gradgrind, surely.

    If you really, really need to know what’s wrong with “facts”, even in the more recent experience, reprise any [English] history book from a half-century gone. And, by the way, Charles II didn’t say, “Let sleeping dogs lie”. His actual words were more likely to be, “A stirred turd stinks” — as I have suggested here previously. Cue Frank Carson: It’s the way I tell ’em.

  • Clanky

    Absolutely Malcolm, not just “factual”, but also not just based on abstract concepts either, we should teach the facts as we understand them, but at a certain level we should also teach the processes by which we came about these facts and the limitations in those processes which mean that we don’t treat the facts as we know them as absolute truth. (unless of course we are talking about religious education in which case all truth is what the bible says and cannot be questioned ever, right?)

    But as I said above this is already the case, or at least it was when I went to school twenty odd years ago, you mention history, but even in 3rd year (or whatever bloody number they give it now), we were taught not only the “facts” of history, but the differences between primary, secondary, tertiary sources and about the reasons why much of history is a deliberate lie.

    I remember one of my science teachers telling us that all we had learnt about light being an electromagnetic wave was actually “a load of old bollocks”, the class erupted, but he had our attention as he went on to explain how sometimes in science we use a convenient theory to explain something even though we know it’s not actually true, this was our introduction to relativity and the idea that the Newtonian mechanics that had been drummed into us was “a load of old bollocks”, but the “facts” of Newtonian mechanics still need to be taught because they are useful tools for understanding how things work in everyday life.

    As a marine engineer I use Newtonian mechanics all the time, I have yet to accelerate anything to near light speed (although I may have come close myself as I ran away from an exploding turbocharger), so while I am glad that I was taught that not all facts are Facts, I am also glad that I was given the tools to figure out just how hard I need to hit something with a bloody big hammer.

  • Clanky @ 2:31 pm:

    Sadly, “a load of old bollocks” is S.O.P. for most school syllabuses.

    A further example comes my way.

    My youngest, MA in historical research, informs me that a “historical fact” is one that has been cited by a certain quantum of published historians. Four is the going rate for that “quantum”.

    Meanwhile, as you imply, there is the “real world”. A part of my childhood was in north Norfolk. There the usual tool-kit was a hammer to make things move, and binder-twine to stop it.

    All in all, I see Professor Lawrence Maxwell Krauss is talking good, old-fashioned pragmatism. As he did, arguing against “intelligent design” before the Ohio State school board. Now, that wouldn’t work in NI.