Fostering Wonder and Inquiry in Children (Paul Andersen)
Paul Andersen, an educational consultant and YouTube creator based in Bozeman, MT, reflects on the differences in good and bad teaching. He explains how parents and educators can move away from dumping information onto children, and instead foster wonder and inquiry so children lead their own learning.
Paul's classroom experience, numerous video lessons, and worldwide consulting make him a popular resource for teaching science. The disruption from the global pandemic make his experience and commentary on the state of education now even more valuable. He's on the front lines with a unique perspective on what's working now and what pitfalls to avoid.
Paul taught classroom science for over 20 years, and through his website https://thewonderofscience.com/ and on-site consulting, he now provides training for students, teachers, and administrators on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), educational technology, effective classroom design, and more.
Voted 2011 Montana Teacher of the Year, he was one of four finalists for the 2011 National Teacher of the Year. A top ten YouTube Edu Gurus in 2012, Paul has several hundred YouTube science videos online and a following of nearly a million subscribers around the world.
Paul Andersen: What I think parents don’t get is this idea of inquiry and inquiry is kids asking their own questions and following their own curiosity. If I show you something cool in a science class, the worst thing for me to do is to explain how it works. Me explaining how it works. It just takes your position as doing inquiry and figuring it out as a scientist away from you. Welcome to
John Pottenger: Welcome to the path to learning podcast where three ordinary guys explore the world of education,
Jay Irwin: what’s working, what’s broken,
Scott Bultman: and what we can do to best advocate for children.
John: I’m John Pottenger.
Scott: I’m Scott Bultman.
Jay: And I’m Jay Irwin.
John: And you’re listening to Path to Learning.
John: So today’s guest is a very interesting connection. It’s actually a really recent connection. Scott, how did we get connected to Paul?
Scott: Well, Paul is a podcast listener. As with a lot of people that I’ve come in contact with over the years, and he had already learned about Froebel and that’s what led him to the podcast. And then when we had a chance to speak with them without recording it, and we just regretted that we didn’t have the record button going. And so we circled back with him to share the work that he has been doing. It’s through these conversations that you really get to see the impact. If Paul hadn’t reached out to us, we would not have known about his work. And we had a fascinating conversation today with him.
John: Yeah. And he’s got a YouTube channel with what is it a million subscribers? He’s had quite an impact, not just through YouTube, but through all the schools around the country and around the world that he does. He does a lot of teacher training.
Scott: Yeah, he’s an educational consultant, a YouTube creator. He’s in Bozeman, Montana. He’s taught science there for 20 years. He was the 2011 Montana teacher. The year and one of the finalists for the 2011, National Teacher of the Year. He’s super passionate.
Jay: Have you guys watched any of his videos? The YouTube videos are incredible. I mean, it’s it’s like you want to start binge watching things that you never thought you would ever binge watch. He’s just such a gifted teacher, his passion just bleeds right through the lesson.
Scott: Well, I love that he calls it a hobby, you know, I mean, obviously, he’s a very passionate teacher that just wanted to, you know, to do what he needed to do for his students, but he’s really kind of found his calling, I think,
John: And there’s a lot of parallels with you know, what we’re doing in the in our documentary and with this podcast, you know, “following the wonder of a child” is I mean, he even named his his website, you know, site, what is it? http://thewonderofscience.com it’s all about following the child. It’s all about fostering inquiry and questions. And that’s exactly what what we should be doing in education.
Jay: Alright, let’s dive in.
Scott: All right, here it comes Paul Andersen. So Paul, you know, you’ve made a transition from classroom teaching to consulting and YouTube. My question to you is how did you make that transition from classroom teaching to consulting and creating content for YouTube?
Paul Andersen: Yeah, so I started doing YouTube videos maybe 10 years ago, I think some of the first videos that I made were 10 years ago, and it was just to help my students. And so a lot of that I was teaching biology and AP biology then. And so a lot of the concepts were pretty complex. So I would put together just YouTube videos so kids could go home and watch that if they were if they had questions. So when they were studying on their own, and they were horrible at the beginning, like, way too long, like not entertaining, but a friend of mine said, you should put those on YouTube. It’s just another click. And I started doing that. And I just got this really good positive feedback loop where you get comments from kids who are out there and find them helpful and they would also give you like feedback on the quality like I can hear you your microphones bad you’re talking too long. And so like to answer your specific question, I got started that way. And then it just kind of became a hobby. So I ended up making, I think I’ve made around 600 videos that go through all of this sciences, but really got interested in just teaching and the pedagogy. And so when the new science standards came out which and that’s probably six years ago now, I did 60 videos on that, which is a different way of teaching science. And that like when people would Google What are these new science standards, since I had a YouTube following, then I would come up to the top. And so I just got invited to a couple of schools, and then ended up taking a sabbatical and then it just kind of snowballed from there. I would say,
Scott: Well, obviously people are watching you were one of the 10 YouTube Edu gurus back in 2012. So what do you owe your success to on YouTube?
Paul: I think, like anything new, it’s just like the first mover advantage if you can just get there and start Making them early. That algorithm kind of helps you out there. I just happen to be one of the earlier ones. I think I’m a good teacher. Now I can look back and say like, I think I’m good at taking complex ideas and making them understandable. I think it’s always been just one of my strengths as a teacher. And so just translating that to to YouTube where kids were, maybe were in classrooms where it wasn’t resonating with them or a teacher is not working, or they need extra help. And so I think, yeah, it was it was definitely a positive. I got as much everybody says the same thing. But I got as much out of it as I feel like I put into it as professional development.
John: And that’s resulted in you traveling and consulting, is that true?
Paul: Yeah. So yeah, you get, you end up getting revenue from YouTube, if you get enough views and so I was able to take a sabbatical from teaching for a year, so ended up going, I would say 70% of my work is abroad. So I’m just traveling to different countries and working with international schools there. So yes, doing that I took a year sabbatical. And now it’s six years doing consulting. And it’s just a different type of teaching. So I’m just teaching teachers, and really fascinating. I would, I would say, once again, just like YouTube, I’ve learned more way more than I think I’ve given teachers from it. And I would also say, and this is what I think leads me to you. And the whole idea of Froebel’s Gifts is I’ve learned way more from early childhood classes than I’ve learned from anything else. So like, what is good pedagogy look like? If you really want to see the best teachers in schools, you have to go to the teachers who are teaching kindergarten and pre-K.
Jay: How was it that you found Froebel?
Paul: I think initially I had listened to a Radio Lab and it was about Froebel Gifts. And so that I found was just compelling this idea that we had a really good way of teaching back in the day and then it kind of has had been, I think, I don’t know “Americanized”? if I remember the story they told, like by Milton Bradley. And so there was that I thought was just really compelling this idea that I’d never heard I’d heard of Montessori and like Reggio Emilia, but I’d never heard of the idea of Froebel. And so that kind of was exciting. But now I’ve revisited it again. And and the reason why is that, I’m going to go back to the science that I teach. I think in education, there are two things that all of education does. The first is design, like how do we make the world a better place? And that’s in any I know, that’s a lot of your work is that but the other big thing that we do in school is inquiry, which is how do we understand the natural world by asking questions and then thinking about the world. And those are the two big things that we do and in education and in science with these new science standards, like inquiry is the center of the learning that you should do, and it’s a K-12 curriculum. So all the way through kitchen to be kind of basing their understanding on, how do you ask questions and then answer those questions. It’s really about individualized instruction and self discovery. It’s a compelling set of standards. But the hardest part of that to teach are what are called these cross cutting concepts. So cross cutting concepts are concepts that connect all of science. And I would argue that connect all of education. So an example of one would be patterns, or causation, or stability and change. These are these big overarching themes. And what I found is that kids will not learn those on their own. Like, I’ve seen a kindergarten students understanding of causation and cause and effect equal to that of a high school kid in a science class. And so these thematic you can call it whatever these deep thinking routines, they don’t pick them up on their own, like the greatest example would be systems. So how do we think about systems and how systems in our And how systems are connected.
Paul: And so what I’ve found is that you have to explicitly teach those. And now I’ve just gone back to blocks, like every school that I go to I’m “show me your kindergarten” because I want to get those wooden blocks that are there. And we’re going to use those to teach these big concepts.
Jay: That’s awesome.
Paul: Yeah, example would be, we were in a middle school classroom and they were looking at impacts. So this was the introduction of wolves back into Yellowstone Park and how there’s been this cascade of this affects this which affects this, which eventually affects the rivers are the riparian zones around the rivers. And so before you have kids get into that, which I think is a pretty deep, multiple causes in a system, then I just get blocks out and I set the blocks up. My favorite blocks to start with are just dominoes. So just hooking up dominoes, and then just say, “Okay, everybody, students just close your eyes for a second” and then I’d knock the dominoes over, and then I say, “okay, open your eyes now. So like what you just experienced was an effect. Okay? So that’s what we’re seeing. Now, what do you think cause that” and they’ll get that right away. They’ll say, “oh, like you hit it, and that hit that block, which hit another block.” And so there’s this cause. And then when you dig into the actual, we call them phenomena in science, this natural phenomena, then they’ll go back and say, like, “Oh, I get it like, this willow is like one domino which affects this, which affects this.” And so I have used the blocks as a way to get at these ways of thinking. And so the blocks end up representing the things that we’re studying can be represented by those blocks. And now with COVID, it became kind of my passion project. So going back to Montana, and just getting out my garage and building new blocks and trying to replicate these big thinking ideas using Froebel’s Gifts and I find a they’re incredibly valuable.
Paul: I’m going to teach a lesson tomorrow, a third grade lesson. And it’s going to be on inheritance and variation. And so we’re just going to start with as I hold these up, so you can see I’m just, oh, they’re green, so you can’t see them. But they are those forms, which are a sphere or a cylinder, I think it’s like gift to. And so the students are just going to start looking at patterns. “So how are these two alike? And how is this one different? How are these two alike? And how is this one different? Or how are they all alike?” So we’re teaching this idea of patterns, but then we’ll go to I’ve got some seashells and so we’re gonna look at seashells. And now same thing. “Okay, well, how are they alike? How are they different? How are they related to each other?” So I think it’s it’s really important to build that conceptual understanding, before you get it confused with the complexity of life to understand these that’s how I’m using them right now.
Scott: Well, it looks like you’re instead of using textbooks, you’re really kind of setting up these science experiments. How are the older kids responding to, to playing with the blocks?
Paul: Yeah, they love that. Like, I think the one thing I don’t know, everything kind of comes together in this time of I don’t know, where if I learned this from reading your, your podcasts or where I learned it, but I think I think the big thing that we that we have to do is we have to just move away from explaining before we ever have time to explore. So there should always be a time to explore before we ever explain. And kids in high school are just sick of teachers who stand in front of them and just explain all the time because when you explain there’s no role like what’s my role as a student, like eventually they just quit wondering and they just kind of adopt to the system itself. But I think like what they love is just showing them. Like they want to see the experiment or the phenomena without you telling them. This is how I want you to think about it. Sure. And then engage into that through inquiry.
John: Yeah. You mentioned earlier that, you know, we should be leading with inquiry, but at a certain point, you have to just teach it. I think you said something along those lines. And I’m wondering if, as you’ve been traveling around, if, you know, students don’t even know how to to do inquiry, they don’t know what questions to ask, is that right? Can you speak to that?
Paul: Totally. Yeah. I’m going to use jargon here. So I want to make sure that I understand that. So in science, there are three dimensions that they talk about it and the one is the content we’re learning. And the content we learned should just be core ideas. We shouldn’t learn a bunch of trivia, it should just be core ideas. So in biology, natural selection is a really important thing. And evolution is something that you should understand. But if we think of that as one of these three dimensions, the next dimension is inquiry that you’re talking about. How we ask questions are how do we develop models and test those models? So that’s the second dimension. And the third are these cross cutting concepts. And so what I’m finding is the rules of teaching science are very simple. Like number one, they don’t know how to do inquiry. So you have to teach them how to ask a good question, or how to develop a model, or how to test the model, they won’t learn that. Rule number two, you have to teach him these big concepts, these ideas of systems or energy or matter, and the blocks are the best way to do that. They represent these big ideas. And then the third thing about the content is you don’t teach that through direct instruction. You wait until they engage into the phenomena. And then once they use those words, then you give the word natural selection to it. If they’re saying like, Oh, I think the beaks are changing because these ones are dying. We can say like, oh, scientists call that selection. And now it means something to them because they’ve been trying. They’ve been in the position of a scientist and trying to figure out how some phenomena works. And that works best at that point they’re in. They want to figure this out. And this content is is valuable at that point.
Jay: I’m curious, being kind of a homeschool teacher right now during this time, actually my wife, right, many of our friends as well, I was struck by the amount of lessons you had on YouTube. I don’t know what the number is, but it’s in the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, right. And they all have multiple illustrations, and they’re so well thought through what source are you drawing from how to do that?
Paul: Right. I mean, it takes years. So I started 10 years ago, and so it was a hobby. The other big thing that I did is, I think it’s really important. I think parents don’t get this like, teaching is an art. It’s not easy to have 30 kids and move Have them as a collective in a way. So they all feel like this is what we want to do not just like this is what we have to do. So I think it’s an art. I think the other thing that it’s important that for parents to understand is there’s been so much development in the last 30 years on, what’s the best way to learn? And how can we learn that and what’s developmentally appropriate to learn. So like, I do all of my work based in best practice of teaching and standards. So the standards used to be before like, when we went to school, the standards were simply this is what you have to know. So you have to know a bunch of scientific just content, which is stupid now, because you’ve you can look it all up on the internet or on your phone just immediately. You don’t need to have that. But to circle back to your question, like the reason I was able to make all those videos is when these science standards came out, I just make a video on each part of that, or the AP Biology standards come out. I make 55 videos that cover that and so by tying it to the specific standards, I know that I’m doing content that is important. So it’s, it’s what kids should understand. But also it’s developmentally appropriate. So for example, I’ve seen this as a problem. Lots of times in elementary, you’ll have teachers, where the kids in class, who are the most vocal kids in class are the kids who have just had an advantage their parents read to them, they took him to museums, like they learned this. And so those kids want to have these high level discussions about black holes are there for some reason, they always want to talk about black holes, and quantum physics. The kids don’t understand what that is at all. But if you follow that, as a teacher, you’re getting into really dangerous area because they can get a surface understanding of that, but they won’t get this deep core understanding of it, and you’ll leave tons of those kids who are not developmentally ready there. I think that’s one of the problems about schools that we all have to move at that same pace. I find COVID horrible. This pandemic is devastating lots of communities. But I think it will be incredible as far as how it starts to disrupt a lot of what we’re doing with education. Like I think it’s going to be a good thing. I think parents are starting to see, this is harder than I thought. It’s hard to keep my own kids motivated. Jay, I see you guys raising your hand.
Paul: It’s really hard. And I think what you’re not seeing is because I work with so many schools that there are certain schools I’m working with were highly a fluent, once the pandemic hit. They’ve been kind of doing the schedule using really authentic zoom meetings like this, where there’s a connection to the kids and a connection to the teachers every day. So they’re still running the schedule. And there’s a lot of that, like highly interactive, I have a friend who’s mailing out boxes to kids so they can do all their biology experiments at home. Other schools that I’m working with have said, especially in a lot of like, urban areas like high poverty areas, they said once COVID hit, they’ve heard from 25% of their kids period. They’re giving them Chromebooks and trying to give them internet access. But those kids are just gone. That is horrible. I don’t know. That’s horrible. Like the repercussions of that. What are those kids doing at this point? And they’re missing all of that. So I think, I don’t know. I think the pandemics going to make us just focus on things that were always problems, but we didn’t know that they were as big a problem as we know now, like meat. Meat packing is a great example of that. Those are horrible jobs. Like you can get a living, but it’s not a great living. And now like it’s it’s putting a focus on that. And I would say the worst thing we’re seeing in schools right now is parents swinging by a school to pick up a packet of just worksheets. They’re supposed to just have kids work through the week. That is bad teaching. That’s bad pedagogy that’s never been good to do that in the classroom yet alone where there’s no like any connection to the teacher. And so I think, I hope when we go back, we don’t go back to that old way. And I would even say, like, this is this ad thing. As a teacher, what really makes your job harder is a lot of things that are outside your actual classroom, the externalities of your classroom. So when I stepped away from teaching, the stuff that I didn’t miss was staff meetings, and trainings on things that were not relevant to me, and emails and grading and all of that stuff. But in 20 years of teaching, I never got one email from a parent who said, I don’t think you’re using good pedagogy in your classroom and this is how you can change the way you’re doing the teaching. Teachers never get that either. Mail. I mean, they might early elementary, but I know in high school, no, no parents are sending that. They just pull their kids out because they don’t want to have that conversation. But like, I get hundreds and hundreds of emails from parents, and they’re just about the letter grade in the class. Yeah, like that’s all. It’s, it’s a bad system where the only metric that that parents are getting are that letter grade. So they don’t know like what the classroom looks like. But it is like it’s a bad system where the whole thing is based on your success. I’m taking the lens of the high school, your success is dictated on how well you do as a grade. And then how will you do on these standardized tests, which don’t have any bearing on how life will actually treat you. But people put huge value on it. And so I don’t even remember what we were talking about.
Scott: Well, so I got a couple directions that I want to go in here. First of all, I just want to follow up on what you said, because there is foible being sold. And I know I know where it’s coming from. But what they do is they sell it with activity books, they sell it with essentially glorified worksheets which I, which we all know is bad pedagogy and yet they’re trying to claim this as Froebel when Froebel was adamant he never developed anything written for the child. Right. And it’s just one of my pet peeves. So I just wanted to get that in there. But one of the things I wanted to follow up on is you’re a classroom teacher. And you’re obviously using a lot of hands on you’re setting up these experiments to build on that inquiry, but you’re also using technology and i i think it’s a beautiful balance that you have and I just kind of wanted you to speak to that a little bit because there’s a lot of polarization right now in education and and the world in particular, you know, anti technology or all technology and I see that you’re really bouncing it well. So I wanted to to get some your feedback on that.
Paul: Yeah, I mean, to try to reflect Scott on the first thing you said, I think you’re right, like there’s a set of teachers who just want a worksheet. They just want a lesson plan. They just want you to tell them like this is what you do, or this is the program that you follow. And so for certain teachers that is compelling, so I’ve always been one to my website and all my resources it’s been, I just want to show you what a really good phenomena that kids could engage into, and then give you the practices that you could kind of us to understand those. But to talk about technology, I think it’s really important to use technology, what technology is good for. Right now, for example, we have a bunch of people who are in different places in America that are having a like a conversation about a really important subject. This is a this is something that just won’t happen. It without technology and a way to number one, record it and then share it and then other people reflect on it. That’s a wise use of technology. Another wise use of technology I found in the classroom is it’s a waste of my time to stand in front of kids and just lecture because I’m trying to aim for the middle And there’s a bunch of kids who I am boring at a bunch of kids who I’m confusing. So when I was teaching in the class, what I did is made these small videos, I always try to keep them like 10 minutes or less, and that the kids come to that when they need that knowledge. If you’re trying to understand something, it took a long time for Darwin to figure out natural selection, kids are just going to figure that on their own. So like, it’s important when you get to a point to watch this video on natural selection, and then go back to engage with that. And so the way I use the technology in my classroom was to shift me in time. And so I’m not always standing in the front of the classroom, that kids are doing different things at different times. So some are watching a video or some are doing a lab or some are doing a little meeting with me. And so as a way to get in lower elementary, we call this stations where you’re like, these people are in this station and these kids are in this station and so what it did is allow me to just have the really important conversations. Me spending three or four minutes with a kid or a group have children is so important because I can ask them the questions, just like you’re doing for me right now asking those questions that move the discussion where I want to go and then also understand, “oh, these are the things that they’re struggling with.” And this is how I can point you in the right direction. like humans are social. We know that right now. This is a really devastating time for especially highly social kids who are just isolated in their home. But I think what we need to leverage that social bit and use it that time together to make that time, the most valuable time. It’s silly to sit in a classroom and just do dialogue where you’re just, it’s one way and just a couple of kids are at like asking questions. It’s a waste of time. Whereas if I can get, they can watch those little videos at certain times. And then let’s have authentic conversations that are meaningful.
John: You’ve been around the world you’ve seen schools all around the country specifically, you know, is there a contrast to what you see around the world? And is there a diverse outlook for the US in that kind of way?
Paul: Yeah, I think a lot of the schools that I go to are international schools. And so they’re, it’s pretty much an American school. Let’s say you work at the embassy somewhere or you’re working in industry. So they’re like, it’s an American school. I think the big thing that’s the big thing that’s traveling has done to me is it’s just given me a privilege of perspective, you see so many different cultures and you meet so many people and from, they’re all wonderful, like humans, in general, writ large, are great. Also, I think, if you look at the educational systems in a lot of other countries, it’s not great. Like you go to Asia where you have really high scores, and you have a lot of just teacher standing in the front of the classroom delivering that instruction in China. I’ve been to a lot of those where they have really high test scores, but they just a lot of those, like the galaxy Which is a test they have to take to get admitted into a lot of the high. It’s, it’s a horrible test where they just have to memorize a bunch of material and then regurgitate that. And you when you talk to people, they’re they’re like, we understand that we don’t, we need to add more of creativity and design and things like that into our education. So I would not say that American schools, or the educational system is is bad, I think it’s that there are just different, there are different constraints around the world. So like in India, for example, if I go on to become a teacher, or I become a janitor in a school, it’s like a tenfold difference in how much money I can make in India. Whereas in America, it’s not that much difference, and there’s not such an incentive and not so much competition. And so I think there’s that that there are, it’s a lot not to do not so much with the school, but it’s a really indication of the culture and what are the constraints in the culture. Now that being said, there are countries That really value that. So one that stands out is Finland as a country that really does well on tests, but they also have a school that you would actually want to send your children to. And that’s not just chance. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Finland said, we’re gonna invest in two things. We’re going to invest in technology, and we’re going to invest in education, over 20 years, that systematic like we’re going to get this improve education really has improved education. And when you talk to kids in Finland and say, What do you want to be when you grow up? They’re like, doctor, lawyer, teacher, and those are not they’re just making that up.
Like, it’s really hard to become a teacher in Finland … 10% of people make it. You have to have advanced degrees. Like there’s only one thing that really matters in a classroom and that is the teacher. The quality of the teacher in the room is the most important thing. And I think in a lot of countries and a lot of places in America, we don’t Value who that is and the professional learning of the person who’s there. And I think if you don’t have a professional in that position, they’ll just do whatever you ask them to do. Like, oh, we’re doing this book, I’ll do that, or this program, I’ll do that. Is that what they’re trained to do? No, they’re trained to do good instruction, like all of your training, like right now, the training that you’re getting as a teacher is, I think, great. I think we can we can bash Common Core a lot. And we can say, this is a problem with schools, but it’s not the Common Core Standards are wonderful. Like the actual standards of this is how you learn math. And this is how you learn it using manipulatives. And building this understanding of math. It’s when we take those good standards. And then we have these testing protocols that then are not great. So what we I think I listened to I think it was Julie Wilson who was on your show and that idea of we value what we test versus test In what we value, I really think people will bash Common Core. And then you ask them like, what standard? Do you not like? I don’t know. I have no idea what it is like I couldn’t tell you why there’s an emphasis now on kids reading nonfiction text, or kids learning math through sets. They don’t even know what the standards are. They just think that it’s a bad way. And I think Yeah, to go back to your original question, I think teachers got a little bit of training on how this way of teaching math is different. And then they just think the curriculum is the book or the worksheets or the resources that they get.
Paul: My dad was a math professor, and he wrote a book in (I should go grab it) like 1974. He wrote a book on teaching math. And it’s how to use blocks to build a conceptual understanding of mathematics. Like we’ve always known how to teach this way. It’s just that it gets lost. It’s just like an American. thing where it gets lost in the money of schools of textbooks and worksheets. And now the worst thing I think for schools is something called “Teachers Pay Teachers,” where teachers are just putting, putting material that’s not based in best practice at all. And then other teachers are just using that without thinking, does this even help me? I kids understand, I don’t know. Like, there’s a lot of stuff and I I’m now generalizing, which is really dangerous. Like it. You can’t talk about the education system in America as if it’s one thing. It’s so variable,
Scott: Give us some idea … because you’re you’ve moved around, not only the world, but around the country. So give us kind of a contrast of sort of good news/bad news.
Paul: Yeah, so it would be let’s go to like some of the best schools in America. So I was at Thomas Jefferson School, which is good. It’s always gonna be like number one or number two on a lot of the like best schools in America. Why is it the best school in America? It’s a stem magnet school right outside of Washington, DC. So it’s a social Economic thing, but they have wonderful classes. So they’ll teach a, a freshman level class where the kids will have an English teacher, a science teacher and a and a technology teacher. And they’ll study something in nature where they will collect data, they will build a device. So like, I’m going to build a device. So I can look at phytoplankton or measure the effect of gravity tropism on plants. And then they’ll present at a symposium. It’s just what we want schools to be like, but then we’ll have schools I’m in Montana. So some of the Native American schools on the reservations, you’ll have schools where on a typical day, 50% of kids might even be there at the school. It’s such a continuum across America, and that just gives you a taste.
Scott: Yeah, we have this huge disruption now, with the COVID-19. And I’m wondering, how hopeful do you feel like this awareness that parents now have about what teachers do and some of this other stuff is gonna is it going to be a positive impact?
Paul: I think I think it’ll be a positive impact in certain areas. So there was a debate when this in schools when when COVID hit and that was, okay, do we go synchronous or asynchronous? So like, right now we’re doing synchronous. We’re all in this meeting. At the same time, we’re having a conversation and a lot of schools said, we can’t do that, because that’s an equity issue. And what that means is, there’s tons of kids in our district who don’t have access to the internet or a device, or it’s like in a school, and maybe in a household, it’s shared between five kids or something in that. And so they said, We were not going to do anything. So like as a result of a few kids having act like equity issues, nobody gets good instruction for throughout the whole thing. I think you could argue it on the total opposite, like at this point, at this time, those kids who don’t have access or a device, they’re the ones who need that synchronous connection to the teacher and connection to other people more than anyone.
Paul: So I think the big thing, I hope we see is that, that this idea of remote teaching is something that I don’t think will go away, it’ll become more and more prevalent of, we’re at school, and now we have to move away, or it just helps to individualize instruction a lot more. And so I think, Scott, to answer your question, I think we will see that there has to be there just like a bill of rights for kids in education, where it’s like, you have to be able to be connected to the internet and be able to connect to people if you’re not connected to the school. So I hope things like that are things that we see. I also know that we saw a lot of bad teaching, which is not great for schools, there was just bad instruction that parents saw. And the reason why is they had about one day to figure it out. Like it’s the schools here and now the schools closed and like community, I’m sure for principals communicating that with with their teachers. I know what is good instruction look like now when we had overnight to figure it out. So I think all the training that schools are going to get in the fall is going to be how do we get a system that is easy. gives us authentic instruction that we have in the classroom if we go remote. So I think that there’s going to be a lot of focus or intention on that. For me, there’s been wild stuff that’s grown out of this that I think will hint at what the future might be. So for example, like my job is consultant, so that means a district brings me Yeah, I’ll maybe be at a school for a week. And we’re doing like really deep professional development on how to do everything that I’ve described here. That model is very expensive, you have to bring me there. It’s it’s not great for the environment to have me flying around the world to all of these places. Also, like the only people that can bring me in are those who have money to like, invest in the professional developments, not so much my cost but the the teachers are out of the classroom for a week, so we have to have subs. So that idea, it does work like I’ve worked with schools where three or four years in, it’s amazing, this whole idea of following the kids wonder and individualize instruction like it will work but that requires a lot of investment. Really good professional development. So that being said, since covid, I’ve done all of these things that I’ve never done before. So I co taught a lesson with a bunch of students in Spain tomorrow, I’ll teach a third grade lesson using throwables blocks to talk about inheritance and variation. It’ll be me co teaching with another teacher and a bunch of other teachers from around Spain. I’ll watch that lesson go on live. I’ve done training with I did a professional development with 140 teachers all around the world where we dug into Okay, how do we not just get stuck in this webcam, but use stuff to do science in our classroom and share that I did a workshop just the other day we had 10,000 science teachers who were just watching people like myself talk about what is good instruction look like now, like those are things that never would have happened before. And so that’s disruption and that’s what disruption looks like. That tick of just innovations just gradually getting better and better and schools.
Paul: We need a big thing like this to disrupt it and then start to value, what are the most important things like, what is most important is the social emotional health of our kids like number one. Number two, we want kids to be like curious and follow their own wonder. Number three, we want individualized instruction. So it’s not like some factory model. We’ve seen that in good classrooms over the last two months. And so I think the bad teachers are going to be the ones who when the schools open up, just go back to what they were doing before. Don’t do that. You’ve learned these skills now that you have to keep using.
Jay: You’ve got our attention as parents, right now in this time for sure. Do you have the first question is do you have some words of wisdom to parents on kind of high level philosophy of what we should be looking for and doing? Second question would be how when we return to school, what how can we advocate … how can we work with teachers when we’re seeing things that we don’t like or things we want to be different. What’s the best way to partner with the teachers to get that done?
Paul: Those are good questions. So like, first, let’s go advice for parents. The most important thing, I think we get design, I think parents get that of like, let’s let’s have you create an invention to solve a problem, or I’ve got, let’s use your creativity and some Legos or different things to like, build it like that’s, I think we have that figured out. What I think parents don’t get is this idea of inquiry and inquiry is kids asking their own questions and following their own curiosity. So like, my slogan that I always talk about is “don’t kill the wonder.” So if I show you something cool in a science class, the worst thing for me to do is to explain how it works. Me explaining how it works. It just takes your position as doing inquiry and figuring it out as a scientist away from you. And you won’t notice it in lower Elementary. If you keep answering every kid’s question, guess what happens? They quit asking questions. They think that your job is to answer the question like your job as a teacher is not to answer kids questions. It’s to help them ask better questions, and then answer those questions. Now I’m, I’m a parent as well. And I remember what that’s like. My son was just like, every day question, question, question question. All it is, is questions. And and you just get into this thing where it’s like, oh, I answer that I answer that, I answer that. And what you won’t notice is that they’ll just quit asking those. But you, you have to just say, let me take every fifth question, say, Oh, that’s a really good question. How do you think, like, what do you think about that? And then just let them draw or show you what they’re thinking? And then once they they do that, say, that’s a really good idea? How could we investigate that to figure out if you’re right or wrong?
John: Or if it’s wrong, don’t shut them down? Just like ask them to draw it out? Like literally? Oh, my gosh,
Paul: Yeah. Like you’ve got a really good question. Like, what do you think the answer is? Oh, that’s a good answer. How could we invest The gate that, like that’s your role is to. And it’s not an annoying Socratic kind of seminar where we’re eventually getting them to understand it by just answering every question with another question. It’s, it’s really teaching them the skills of what to do with your wonder and what to do with your curiosity. So I think that would be my advice, just quit answering every one of their questions, also, like a caveat to that j would be a lot of us think, oh, let me just push them to the internet. And they’ll look up the answer to the questions like that’s not inquiry either. You’re just looking up somebody else’s inquiry that you found on the internet, you’re not doing that at all. Like there’s this illusion that we know things because we can look the answer up. So I think I think that would be the biggest thing. That the advice that I would give parents and and I think, even when I look at something like I was talking to another person at a conference and the science toys that you find in a department store, anything like the science toys are horrible. They’re just broke. Like, how can we grow crystals again?
Paul: Like there’s nothing, there’s no really things that you can buy that are like, let’s do a legitimate experiment. Let’s do a scientific experiment to answer some questions. So there’s this. We think science is a thing that it really isn’t like the worst place to do sciences in a lab, the best place to do science is in your backyard. So just get out there and like, what patterns do I see? What questions do I have? What could I answer those?
Paul: The other part of your question, though, is how do we work with schools? I think the best thing to do is to if time provides like to volunteer to get in there and see what the classroom is really like to help out in any way that you can. And that’s mostly and that would be in lower elementary, like just volunteer to see before you start saying like, these are the things that are wrong, get a sense of what’s right and what’s wrong so that you can give them actionable feedback as they move into middle school. Kids don’t want you to go to the gym. Nobody wants their parent to go to school. But like asking those questions about how are like the things I’m just saying like, those are really good questions for schools and for teachers, how do you foster the curiosity of my of my child? Like, how are you teaching them to think like a scientist? What strategies are you like? Those are really good questions that never get asked to teachers. The only time they get asked to be in just that one job interview, so quit asking, like, how can I? It’s always about grades. I hate to like fixate on that. But it is like so much of the problem in American schools, especially in high school, is just based on a system that really is not it’s not measuring what we think’s important.
Paul: And so I think like why I think science is such a big deal is that schools have focused on math and English language arts, and that’s not the world it’s how we make sense of parts of the world, but it’s not the world. And so you can only do inquiry on two things. One would be science, understanding the natural world. And the other would be social studies. How do we understand the interactions we have with other people in the world, like those are the only two things that we can really do true in Korea. And that’s why I think they’re huge connectors, that I can go into a classroom where there’s five year olds, and they come from so many different backgrounds. They have parents who read to them every night, and parents who didn’t read to them at all. But if I show them a scientific phenomena, they both engage in at the same spot because for the last five years, they’ve been in the natural world, they understand the natural world. And so I really just answer your question, Scott. There’s been such an emphasis on math and era because it’s easy to measure those things, that we’ve lost nature, we’ve lost the world we’ve lost these connections with other humans. Which is what makes life worth living. And I think that that’s a sad document and just missteps that we’ve made along the way.
Scott: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I really appreciate you taking time today. You’re doing some great work. Yeah. You know, you’re you’re multiplying what you’ve been doing in the classroom and really helping other teachers to do the same. So
John: Thank you for your work. It’s been amazing.
Paul: Oh, yeah, for sure.
Scott: Well, and on that note, for those people that are interested in what you do, tell them how they can learn more about what it is that you’ve got going.
Paul: Yeah, I have a YouTube channel called Bozeman Science. That’s where I put the lessons that you were talking about. And that’s just it’s really like, where I put the things I’m, like, curious about right now. But I have a website called thewonderofscience.com. And that’s where I’m really trying to focus on these phenomena of like getting kids to engage and learn to think so if, if what I’ve said right now is interesting to you. How do I do inquiry with my kids? Like there’s a set of videos for that fantastic.
Jay: Awesome. Love your passion. Thank you.
Paul: Thank you guys. Yeah, keep up the good work. Yeah, I love the show. Good.
Scott: Thanks, Paul.
John: Thank you, Paul. Well, we hope you guys enjoyed today’s episode as much as we did I know that I learned so much and more than anything I was inspired to, to stop answering questions that my kids have and to ask the questions and foster that. So if you want to connect with him, first, be sure to check out the show notes. But if you also want to follow us and what we’re doing, you can go to pathtolearning.us. We have all of our all of the links to all the stuff they’re on a website or if you want to support what we’re doing, you can go to http://patreon.com/pathtolearning.
Scott: Well, I know I was inspired to I think it’s great to know there are teachers out there doing what Paul is doing and sharing it the way that he’s sharing it so and how smart our listeners are.
Jay: That’s right.
John: Let’s embrace the wonder embrace the wonder I love it. Let’s leave on that note.
Scott: Thanks, everybody for listening. We’ll be back soon. See you later.