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  • Looking at the World From Another Perspective - Departing the Text Richard Feynman Style
Looking at the World From Another Perspective - Departing the Text Richard Feynman Style
Written by
Meryl Jaffe
March 2011
Written by
Meryl Jaffe
March 2011
Thanks to both Stacey Johnson and to  http://writersisland.wordpress.com for inspiring this post:

Richard Feynman was an accomplished teacher, traveler, painter, bongo drummer, and Nobel Prize winning physicist. He discovered the cause of the tragic 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, worked with Einstein and others on The Manhattan Project, pioneered quantum physics, and, was clearly -  an outstanding "character".  In his books and video clips, one of the things Feynman talks about is his relationship with his parents and his perception of learning and education.  I would like to share some of his stories and humbly translate them into modern-day parenting suggestions.

Richard's Story Part I: Conversations with his father (future posts will continue the story): Meaningful interactions with his father:

  • His father would bring home little bathroom tiles of different colors and put them on Richard's highchair to play with.  The goal was for Richard to play with them in an effort to recognize, construct, and compare patterns.
  • Application:  patterns are everywhere, and we constantly decoding them.  There are patterns in phonics and reading, patterns in math, patterns in science (for example genetic code and DNA).  The more experience kids have making and interpreting patterns, the easier it will be to use and integrate them in and out of school.
  • When reading about Tyrannasaurus Rex he took Richard outside and pointed to the second floor of the building next door saying "that" is how tall TRex was.
  • Application:  The more personal learning is made, the easier it will be to integrate, learn, and remember.  By relating TRex's height to the height of the building, Richard's dad helped him better understand how large he really was, how scary he was, etc.
  • When walking together, his father would ask questions like, "Why do you think birds peck at their feathers?" to help Richard learn to observe and critically analyze the world around him.
  • Application: Observation is essential in science, in social interactions, in learning.
  • Richard talks about how his father would always read to him from the Encyclopedia Brittanica.  'Everything he read would be translated as best he could into some reality...what it really means.'

The Point: We all want to motivate and prepare our kids for school and life through 'lovely, interesting' interactions.  We want them to discover and savor the wonders of the world around them.  We want to give them as many "ooh and ahh" experiences as possible.  This not only helps them in school (as I hope to have demonstrated above), it teaches them to explore, to think, to learn, to love.

How can we do this as parents and teachers?

Take advantage of resources around you: go to museums, parks, historical sites, nature trails.

Look for patterns in the world around you: traffic patterns, sidewalk patterns, tiles, gardens, the way things are arranged on shelves.  Talk about the patterns.
  • Are they pleasant?  
  • Is there some mathematical pattern behind them? 
  • How might you make them more appealing?

Take walks together and:
  • Look for small things, or large things, blue things or yellow things... look at patterns, look at cloud formations and what they remind you of... Teach your kids to observe things they might normally overlook.
  • Talk about "the path not taken" create scenarios where a second path might take you. 
  • When you see animals and plants, talk about them. Brainstorm why they have specific colors, sizes, resources and why this might be so important.
  • If you live in a city talk about traffic, cars, sidewalks, signs...
  • When asking questions, don't always give answers.  Let your child brainstorm.  You may or may not want to ask more questions to help them navigate towards the solution.  Just know that learning is actually more effective when there is some dissonance - when the learner has to actively think and construct solutions.
READ together!  Read picture books, novels, poetry, comics/graphic novels, plays... and talk about them:
  • Talk about the settings, the characters, the dilemmas they face.  Brainstorm possible options and story lines. 
  • Talk about the resolutions:  what they mean to the characters, how realistic are their solutions.
  • Discuss, for example, how a book might have been written from a different character's perspective. How might the story be different if it took place in a different location or in a different era.
  • When reading graphic novels look at the patterns.  How do the panel (sizes, shapes, borders) change.  Why?  Does the background color and art of the panels change?  Why?

As Richard Feynman notes in his book (Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman):

“That’s the way I was educated by my father, with those kinds of examples and discussions:  no pressure – just lovely, interesting discussions.  It has motivated me for the rest of my life…” 
Richard Feynman, 1988.

Again, my thanks to Stacey - please visit her blog at:(Dreams Like This http://oneiran.blogspot.com/2011/03/from-wonder-to-wonder.html).  Let me know how you provide "lovely interesting discussions with your child.

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