How Demonstration Teaching Can Unlock Complex Ideas.
Amongst the circus of the American election, the anti-climaxes of the World Cup qualifiers and the growing uncertainty of Brexit, you may be forgiven for missing a Swedish physicist standing in front of the cleverest people in the world describing the difference between a bagel, a pretzel, and a cinnamon roll.
When Thors Hans Hansson, member of the Nobel Committee, held the pastries aloft to the assorted press and scientists, he was demonstrating an incredible complex concept using items that everyone can relate to. The physics breakthrough concerning (brace yourself) topological phase transitions and phases of matter is one of the trickier ones, even in a subject littered with bonkers ideas. (If you’re interested in finding out more, Scientific American does a great job of going into more detail).
Mr Hansson used the number of holes in each of his pastries to illustrate the differing properties of the items and went from there. This is an incredibly useful tool that good teachers use every day. In fact, without demonstration and relatable metaphor, it can be very hard to teach complex concepts to children.
There’s a great quote from the highly questionable teen film Road Trip that illustrates the point entirely:
Rubin: What class is that again?
Josh: Ancient philosophy.
Rubin: Well I can teach you ancient philosophy in 46 hours.
Rubin: Yeah, I can teach Japanese to a monkey in 46 hours. They key is just finding a way to relate to the material.
Often, a quick and easy demonstration using a relatable and simple point of reference can help the penny drop in the mind. Think about the lock and key analogy for enzymes – most of us still remember that today!
What demonstrations, though, can offer above and beyond simple metaphors and examples are memorable moments that can imprint in the mind, enabling a basis of understanding that acts as a foundation for further knowledge development. Plus, they’re fun!
Some great examples are the oddly memorising Pendulum Wave Demonstration, the insightful Gravity Visualized, and the slightly disgusting but informative Lesson Idea: Digestive System.
By bringing in practical, relatable demonstrations we can start to get from pretzels to particle physics! Delicious.