My Dad passed away when I was in my early teens but even though I only had him in my life for a short time, he made sure I got off to a good start. You see, like me my Dad was a geek.
Growing up the son of a geek was a wonderfully interesting experience. My earliest memories are helping my Dad build things in our garage. Things like a home-made sun bed for my Mum and a Heath Robinson-esque infra-red intruder detector for our back garden. My Dad was very keen, almost to a fault, for my brother and I to be passionately interested in how the world works and to love learning about it all.
A regular ritual was when he sat my brother and I down in front of the spare TV (an old Black and White 14″ Ferguson portable) to watch Star Trek or Horizon or BBC2’s The Open University with him while my Mum was watching Dallas or Dynasty in the other room. It was during one of these sessions we watched a documentary about a man called Richard Feynman, and it stuck with me.
Apparently the students I work with know me for enthusiastically going off on tangents when I begin explaining things, and I usually end up finding a way to bring Mr Feynman into the converstaion. This isn’t an accident.
When I look at the world today we seem to place less importance on education and we (some of us) “have had enough of experts” – I think this is insane and dangerous and we need to row back from this inflection point and start learning to love intelligence again. I’m not being an intellectual snob when I say that, I hate snobbery in all its forms, but with the challenges facing humanity we need to start listening to experts again.
I try to foster this love of learning and intelligence in the classroom by bringing Feynman into the conversation. To me, his love of finding things out and giving ‘it’ a go is something to be cherished and encouraged – we need more Feynmans!
He’s probably most famous for The Feynman Technique, which is a way to try and accelerate your own learning and understaning of a subject. In short – you’ll never truly ‘know’ something until you try to explain it in the simplest possible way – i.e., teach it!
I’m not going to repeat here what has been written elsewhere about Feynman but I will link to some great resources below that you might find interesting.
This book, “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”: Adventures of a Curious Character, is well worth reading as a primer.
If you would rather start with a video, BBC2’s The complete FUN TO IMAGINE with Richard Feynman available on the YouTubes is a good place to start.