“What I Cannot Create, I Do Not Understand”

That’s what was on Nobel-Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman’s blackboard when he died:

I found this image in an article at Scientific American titled Hunters of Myths: Why Our Brains Love Origins.

The entire article is somewhat interesting, but here’s what I think is the really important and useful part to teachers, and the paragraph that accompanied the blackboard photo:

…when we explain something to someone, we understand it better ourselves. It’s called the self-explanation effect and has been demonstrated numerous times in the real world. For instance, students who explain textbook material perform better on tests of that material than those who study it twice. Students who are trained in self-explanation perform better on math problem-solving tests—and are better able to learn new mathematical concepts. And how’s this for a story: when Nobel-Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman passed away in 1988, after a struggle with cancer, these words graced his blackboard: “What I cannot create, I do not understand.” His final injunction to his students and the world.

I think this paragraph reinforces the importance of creating opportunities for our students to teach their classmates, as I’ve previously described (see Teaching Students To Teach (& What School Reformers Are Missing) ).

Of course, students could “explain something” to the teacher, or in a paper that would just be seen by a teacher. But I think that lack of an authentic audience reduces its value and effectiveness, not to mention all the real-world skills that having to actually teach develops (refining storytelling techniques, picking up on “cues” from others, putting themselves in the “shoes” of a teacher).

You might also be interested in The Best Resources For Learning About The Value Of “Self-Explanation”

What has been your experience of having students teach others?