Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman is a smart man. He’d have to be do win the Nobel Prize, right? But one of the smartest things he is known for is not his work in physics. It is his teaching strategy.
Feynman teaches his students to search for answers themselves and to learn until they can reduce an explanation into simple terminology that anyone can understand. If that cannot be done, then there is a vital piece of information and understanding missing, either because it has not yet been learned or discovered.
Feynman’s technique involves four steps.
Pick a topic and study it. Read and write down everything you know about a topic and keep adding to that list as you learn more.
Pretend to teach that topic. To do that, you must be able to explain it in simple terminology.
Go back to the books when you get stuck. When you find that there is something you cannot explain, do more research until you can explain it simply.
Simplify and analogize. Keep simplifying your language until the concept is easily understood by anyone you try to teach it to while providing real world analogies to help other people grasp the concept.
Sounds relatively simple, right? Not really. Feynman was an expert at doing this, but it takes a lot of practice, discipline, and an intense desire to learn to master this strategy.
So, what does this mean for us? While we may not be trying to instill every bit of knowledge on a subject to our children, the basic teach strategy remains valid. Work with your children to select topics that they are interested in. Provide them with information on that topic, teach them how to research it on their own, and encourage their exploration of that topic.
Then you can have them try to teach that topic to you, their siblings, or a someone from your co-op. When they get stuck, talk with them about the gaps that have been identified and learn more. This could just be a little follow up lesson rather than something more in-depth. Then have your child go back and reteach or otherwise document what they have learned in simple language and with real world applications.