Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Keynote Day One - Dr Neil DeGrasse Tyson
"How do you get kids interested in science? Kids are already interested in science...they're already probing the very world around them. These activities could lead to their death...and we want to prevent that...but there's a whole suite of things that they could do that are the very expression of scientific inquiry. Children are born scientists, and then we beat it out of them. We teach them to walk and talk, then we teach them to sit down and shut up."
This is a guy that gets it. I know that's understatement of the century, but to hear such an elevated mind break it down to such beautiful simplicity is nothing short of amazing.
Kids and Casual Science
Dr Tyson relates a story of his toddler daughter spilling her milk sippy cup...and how she spilled it on accident. She watched it drip, and Neil picked it up. She spilled it again...possibly on accident. Same pick up. But THEN, she picked up the cup and spilled it on purpose...not for any negativity, but to watch fluid dynamics at work...before they realize that that even is.
Same thing with jumping in puddles...we, as parents, stop them from doing what they're compelled to do - Jumping in it. Fluid dynamics and crater physics. An egg on the counter and they reach for it? Let it happen...they grab the egg, it breaks? They learn what brittle is. And brittle is scientifically complex - Egg shells are both hard and fragile...very rare. Then, the yolk? It's yellow, gooey, transparent...and you tell the kid it becomes a chicken one day? Total freak out!!!
What'd the egg cost you? 25 cents? A lesson in embryonic science and physics is worth far more...
Cherish that science. What an adult scientist is is a kid scientist who never grew up. And that's awesome.
Dr Tyson shares one of his progress reports from school that cites that he should "cultivate a more serious attitude toward his school work". Success was supposedly based on the grades you made, doing well on tests...but not on the love of the subject itself. The System that we bring our children up on is very (negatively) formulaic. He shows a career selection sheet from his school days that goes so far as to segregate career options by gender. Dr Tyson cites that he's over 40, and that his generation is running "things" in this country now...which is why it's so messed up!
Suppose you were a brilliant woman in the 1950s...top of your class...expert in some subject that you majored in, you would have been a school teacher. And if you ask people where schools started losing their touch, they would cite the 70's...no coincidence, that's when the Women's Lib movement happened. Surprise - That's when women had so many other career options in front of them...and the school system's talent pools became vacuous.
Today's Job Market
When we don't see a gender or type of person from the millions around us, that's when we need to start asking questions as to "why". Generally, we think of people who are smart as people who "know stuff". But ask - what's more valuable in the workplace? knowing stuff or knowing how to think about stuff? At the end of the day, you want to know "Who are the problem solvers?". One teaches you what to know, one teaches you how to think.
"What is the value of someone who knows how to think?"
Dr Tyson uses the example of math knowledge...trig identities. Out of the entire audience, 6 still use them (volunteer from the audience being a car racing instructor). But when we say "well, I'll never use this again", that's the wrong way to think about it. When you learned that, your brain was rewired to think a different way...that's the important thing.
Job Description Workers vs Problem Solving Workers
How do you react to a task never before handed to you? The Problem Solvers embrace it...it's exciting. They don't view any knowledge as useless...they use everything at their disposal to come up with solutions...running head first into problems. Job Description workers will identify difficulty as something to avoid...as something that's "not their job". How do you promote a job Description worker other than by seniority/chronology? You don't. The Problem Solver has endless reasons...
Another classification, the Multiple Choice Worker, will ask what their choices are. For example, you tell someone you want to take them to lunch, and their answer is "What are my choices?". This is a product of school systems that pre-formulate answers...that don't allow answers to come out of the blue. Maybe a student's answer is BETTER than one that was simply listed. Your brain is being wired to pick from choices, rather than allowing students to come up with their own.
You want someone who can figure out HOW to figure out the answer...not just memorize it or pick from a list. Brain Wiring leads to Problem Solving...Problem Solving leads to success.
(Neil DeGrasse Tyson just told me he was going to slap me for saying "I should know this" about a topic that I did well at in school. This makes me INSANELY proud.)
The Relativity of Wrong
Kids are spelling "cat". First one spells it "C-A-T"...well done! Second spells "K-A-T"...no...wrong! Third spells it "X-Q-W"...wrong, as well. But ask yourself, is K-A-T as bad as X-Q-W? You could argue that phonetically, K-A-T is the way it's presented in the very body of truth we reference all the time...the DICTIONARY. The point - Identify the varying levels of wrong and the varying levels of potential rightness.
I have to run and host the Emerging Tech stage, so I have to cut this short. But, I'm sure, as you can see this was nothing short of brilliant. BRILLIANT. I could listen to the good Dr for hours on end, but will reflect on this keynote for a very long time as the best I've ever heard.