Former textbook writer and TEDxBeaconStreet speaker Tyler DeWitt has ideas on how we should teach science — and they’re a lot different from how most do it now. During his first year teaching high school science, a moment came during a lesson on bacteria and viruses that made him realize that what he was asking his students to read wasn’t really teaching them science at all.
"The reading sucked," said a student. “You know what, I don’t mean that it sucks. It means that I didn’t understand a word of it. It’s boring. Um, who cares, and it sucks.”
So — he taught his students the lesson in the way he’d like to be taught — as a story — and in his TEDxBeaconStreet talk, "Hey science teachers — make it fun," Tyler breaks down how stories, images, and demonstrations can make science not only more accessible to kids, but more memorable for everyone.
From his talk:
The language in their textbook was truly incomprehensible. If we want to summarize [the story of viruses and how they attack], we could start by saying something like, “These viruses make copies of themselves by slipping their DNA into a bacterium.”
The way this showed up in the textbook, it looked like this: “Bacteriophage replication is initiated through the introduction of viral nucleic acid into a bacterium.” That’s great, perfect for 13 year olds…
You know, I keep talking about this idea of telling a story, and it’s like science communication has taken on this idea of what I call the tyranny of precision, where you can’t just tell a story….Because good storytelling is all about emotional connection. We have to convince our audience that what we’re talking about matters…
I’m currently a Ph.D. student at MIT, and I absolutely understand the importance of detailed, specific scientific communication between experts, but not when we’re trying to teach 13 year olds. If a young learner thinks that all viruses have DNA, that’s not going to ruin their chances of success in science. But if a young learner can’t understand anything in science and learns to hate it because it all sounds like this, that will ruin their chances of success.
When he’s not teaching, Tyler makes YouTube explaining scientific concepts in a way that won’t put you to sleep.
To watch his videos, click here, and don’t miss his TEDxBeaconStreet talk, which you can watch in its entirety on TED.com.
(Photos: Tyler’s cartoon science lesson)