another good thing about questions

Or, one reason why teaching is good for teachers.

I’ve just got to the point in Richard Feynman’s autobiography where he’s talking about why he loves teaching. It really resonates with me & I thought I’d share this bit with you:

If you’re teaching a class, you can think about the elementary thgns that you know very well. These things are kind of fun and delightful. It doesn’t do any harm to think them over again. Is there a better way to present them? Are there any new problems associated with them? The elementary things are easy to think about: if you can’t think of a new thought, no harm done; what you thought about it before is good enough for the class. If you do think of something new, you’re rather pleased that you have a new way of looking at it.

The questions of the stduents are often the source of new research. They often ask profound questions that I’ve thought about at times and then given up on so to speak, for a while. It wouldn’t do me any harm to think about them again and see if I can go any further now. The students may not be able to see the thing I want to answer, or the subtleties I want to think about, but they remind me of a  problem by asking questions in the neighbourhood of that problem. It’s not easy to remind yourself of these things.

In a good classroom, everyone’s learning.

R. Feynman (1985) Surely you’re joking, Mr Feynman! Norton.

2 thoughts on “another good thing about questions”

  • One the subject of teaching, you might be interested in a recent article in Science, “Scientific Teaching in Practice” Miller et al 322(5906)1329 (2008). I haven’t time to read it, I’ve got my own reading list (!), but it seems very relevant to your blog. Here’s one paragraph to give a bit of an idea:

    Here, we describe a program that trains
    graduate students and postdocs to practice scientific
    teaching. Hallmarks of scientific teaching
    are methods that encourage students to construct
    new knowledge and to develop scientific
    ways of thinking, provide both students and
    instructors with feedback about learning, and
    foster success for all students. Scientific teaching
    aims to create classrooms that reflect the
    true nature of science and promotes teaching as
    a scholarly endeavor.

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