Teach to learn

I had never heard of the VSauce educational Youtube channel, but it’s got lots of cool, fun, education videos, e.g., What would happen if Everyone Jumped at Once.  Anyway, the Atlantic article about Michael Stevens, the mastermind of Vsauce, gets several of his tips on teaching and learning and I really liked this one:

Know your subject well enough to explain it to someone else:

You have to be able to explain the topic, so that other people can understand it. If you can’t do that, then you don’t really know it. What I’ve found is that even the most common things are things that we think we know, until we are really asked to explain it to other people or to say exactly what it is. Everyone knows what diabetes is, for instance, but could you explain to me, at a molecular level, what really happens? I think you really have to step back and force yourself to really explain something such that no one can have a problem with the explanation. That’s when you really get into full understanding, when you are really ready to teach something to someone else.

On rare occasions, I discover I don’t actually know my particular sub-topic well enough to teach it to someone else, and that’s not good.  But never happens again on that topic.  A friend told me his high school daughter often has homework assignments to explain things like how probability works to a family member.  This is a great idea.  I’m always learning better because I have to teach things.  No reason to restrict the concept to teachers and college professors.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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