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Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

I get told every so often that I should have been a teacher.

The people telling me this are disregarding the massively antisocial aspects of my personality to reach this conclusion, but I do kinda see where they’re coming from. Aside from the whole human interaction element, I quite like teaching.

I guess the way I tend to think of it is that I enjoy explaining stuff I understand. In front of a chalkboard staring at a couple of dozen pre-adolescents is absolutely not somewhere I’m ever going to feel at home, but some one-on-one maths tutoring is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. I’m good enough that it could provide a nice little side-income.

And, like, a good chunk of what I’m trying to do on my blog is explain stuff that interests me to other people. I think I can be a bit teacher-y, so long as it’s well outside the standard classroom environment.

And I sometimes remember that I have definite Opinions about teaching, and how it can be done well and badly. I’ve been convinced for a while that many people’s profound aversion to anything involving numbers can be largely explained by a crappy standard of teaching with regard to all the fundamentals. If you think you hate maths, there’s a good chance you could understand a lot of its bewildering ideas much better if they were introduced in a better-structured manner.

In fact, I started a series of posts back in my LiveJournal days called Happy Funtime Maths Hour, attempting to do exactly that. It was inspired by the polite curiosity of my humanities-oriented university housemates, starting a longer time ago than I’m comfortable thinking about. So when I said I get told I should’ve been a teacher “every so often”, I guess I meant “fairly regularly for over a decade now”.

And I might actually have to start listening, in some form or another. There’s a couple of things that have made me think about this again lately. The first was listening to the audiobook of Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Chef. There’s a lot going on in there: it’s partly a cookbook, with recipes and so on, but it’s also a treatise on the process of learning itself. It examines the path taken by the author to becoming a skilled cook, and picks out the crucial parts of how that learning actually happened. It builds a system of teaching skills based on the way they’re likely to be most efficiently acquired.

Not everything in the book entirely hit home with me, but it definitely had an effect how I think about the process of learning. I’m learning to cook myself, not in quite as organised a fashion as Tim, but in some way inspired by his methods.

One thing I was inspired to do was actually crack open one of the hardcopy cookbooks we have on our shelves. We recently picked up three volumes of Delia Smith’s How To Cook in a charity shop, thinking it might be a good starting point for me to pick up some more basic kitchen skills. These books are somewhat well known for starting from the absolute fundamentals, explaining in simple detail the basics of how to boil an egg, and I vaguely remember them attracting some negative commentary from people who found something risible about this perfectly fine idea.

After some introduction and opening preamble, page 16 of the first volume kicks things off with the header: “How do you boil eggs?”

Just overleaf, on page 19, is this picture:

Now, I’ve never actually taught anything, and I didn’t read the intervening pages in full, so technically I don’t even know how to boil an egg either. But if you’re talking to someone who you’re assuming knows nothing about cooking at all, and they turn a single page to find themselves expected to produce that, something really seems to have gone awry somewhere in the pedagogical process. Maybe other people really have learn loads about cooking from scratch by this exact process, but to me it feels badly disconnected from anything someone clueless and hoping to learn things could actually engage with.

Educating people in ways they won’t get distracted or put off by may be becoming one of my Things. Watch this space.

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This is an excellent article about the teaching of evolution, and following one teacher in Florida in particular, as he tries to work out how best to handle the creationists in his biology class. It’s an inspiring reminder that some real education can sometimes take place in schools, if you’re lucky, and this guy sounds like the kind of teacher that some kids are lucky to have one class with in a lifetime. One interesting point among many, which seems to demonstrate something which could be pointed out to some religious kids, without it being a personal attack:

“But there is scientific proof that there is a God,” he said. “Over in Turkey there’s a piece of wood from Noah’s ark that came out of a glacier.”

Mr. Campbell chose his words carefully.

“If I could prove, tomorrow, that that chunk of wood is not from the ark, is not even 500 years old and not even from the right kind of tree — would that damage your religious faith at all?”

Bryce thought for a moment.

“No,” he said.

Very often the religious want it both ways. Any evidence that can be read as supporting their dogma is leapt upon and raised high as scientific validation, but science is simultaneously condemned and vilified as being unable or unsuitable to address the question. Does the evidence actually matter to your belief, or not?

Hat-tip to Coturnix, who also has a much more detailed analysis of the subject matter.

In other news, can Sweden really not go a single month without something making me want to bitchslap the entire country over the internet? This time, the symbol of a hand pointing upwards, towards the button you’re meant to push next to a pedestrian crossing, is apparently a hidden religious message. “We want to show that there is only one way to reach God and that is up and through Jesus,” the CEO of the company behind the signals apparently said. Well, I can see the ‘Up’ part, but… it’s a small logo of a hand pointing towards a button. The guy who designed it for the company says that’s all it is. What the hell?

Some guy called Tom Willis appears to be a serious fucktard. I mean, seriously, this guy must have really liked the taste of crazy pills and just kept on munching. One of the highlights: “Since evolutionists are liars and most do not really believe evolution we could employ truth serum or water-boarding to obtain confessions of evolution rejection.” You know, I’ll bet good money that this guy was among the crowd screaming for PZ Myers‘ head on a stick when he mistreated a cracker that one time. But threats of violence, torture, and exile to Mars (you really have to read this) against anyone who accepts a majority scientific consensus, well that’s just good sense.

And apparently it’s about time we had an atheist Prime Minister over here. There’d be a lot of plus points, as outlined in this article, though I know very little myself about David Miliband’s actual politics – he’s not a sufficiently influential figure to have reached The Daily Show’s news-desks, and Have I Got News For You is between series at present, so it’s a surprise I’ve even heard of the guy – and that’s probably something important enough to be worth looking into before voting for him. Still, it’s nice to live in a country where something like an absence of religious faith isn’t a trait that stands out or gets noticed much among prominent public figures. Nick Clegg, another atheist, is the leader of one of the country’s three major political parties, though probably has less of a shot at ever actually ending up running the place.

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