Teaching Philosophy – Marc Maxson

Wordle of my teaching philosophy (extended version)
Good instruction begins with breaking down the walls between the classroom and daily life. All science curriculum can be a means to teach the more fundamental critical thinking and problem solving skills that will aid students long after they leave the university. I hope to give students a new way of seeing their world and new tools to address community needs, then unleash them into the community for social good.

“Textbook teaching” tricks students into thinking that formulas solve problems, and that knowledge leads to solutions along a narrow path. Innovation is not an assembly line process where problems, like patients, can be diagnosed and treatments prescribed.  Science is a process driven by questions, ideas, and debates. In real science, no one knows what the right answer will be until long after the “science” is done. Great solutions are more often unleashed by one’s ability to imagine creative alternatives, and to re-frame the problem.

Of course this creativity needs a foundation of facts and rigor, but textbooks get it wrong. They teach science as a body of knowledge, when we need a better understanding of the process.

These are the essentials of being a scientist:

  • The scientific method controls the flood of radical ideas by providing people with a common language to contest their different views by comparing measurements. For without sound measurements, there can be no sound discussion; innovation is reduced to a series of accidental discoveries.
  • Every scientist needs a big toolbox – a collection of methods one can use to try various solutions. These methods are usually borrowed from one’s peers, so it helps to study what others have done, including failed experiments.
  • A formidable knowledge base of the scientific questions that interest you will make it easier to find innovative solutions faster. And that – solutions for a better world – should be the goal, not merely adding knowledge. The average number of times a scientific paper gets cited is currently zero, so knowledge is more often ignored than it is appreciated.
  • Friends – we’re all smarter when we collaborate, and science does this better than any other aspect of human society. We have functional peer review of our literature, proposal committees that award grants more equitably, and we credit each other for our respective contributions better than law, art, music, or the business world.

Teaching science well means training students to understand all these areas, recognizing the power of the scientific method, the toolbox, and collaboration, and not just imparting knowledge. To this end, we much foster debates in the classroom, and apply the process to local real-world problems from the community that cry out for solutions. It means debating ideas with evidence, by testing solutions, and in so doing, helping the community at large. Several videos that follow illustrate how we can rethink science teaching. The unit of learning is no longer based around concepts to remember, but processes and systems that yield results.

In short, I want to teach science that leads to innovation, not mere publication.

I’m available for hire! Courses I, Marc Maxson, can teach:

(General, Molecular)
(General, Organic, Analytical, Biochemistry)
Research Methods:
(Physical or Social sciences)
Science and Innovation for the 21st century.

Lessons from teaching Neuroscience and Complexity (Kenyatta University, 2012):

Introducing a new Complexity and Neuroscience course

Kenya Neuroscience Course – Part 1

Teaching Neuroscience in Nairobi – Part 2

Does the system unleash or suppress creative students?

African neuroscience graduate course report card

Next: Examples of inspiring teachers

Dan Meyer: Math class needs a makeover

Vi Hart: You can learn more Math in class by doodling than through listening to the teacher

Eric Berlow: How Complexity leads to simplicity

Neil Gershenfeld: How to build almost anything

Sugata Mitra shows how kids teach themselves

WBEZ: Is Design the Third Teacher in Schools?

Charles Leadbeater: Education innovation in the slums

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