(I’m republishing posts on my My All-Time Favorite Posts list. This one appeared in 2023. You can see them all here.)



Even though there are quotes supposedly from Richard Feynman and Albert Einstein all around the Internet about the idea that we don’t truly understand something unless we can teach it to a child, neither of them really said anything like that.

Nevertheless, I think there’s still a lot of value to that idea,  and the hugely popular subReddit “Explain Like I’m Five” seems to indicate that a lot of other people agree.

Periodically, to test out the idea and to also provide a change-of-pace in my IB Theory of Knowledge classes, I ask students to present complex topics so that a five year-old could understand it.

I ask them to search online to get an idea of a five-year-old’s vocabulary (I generally tell them they can stretch it to a seven-year-old), and that they have to use accessible words in both their slides and in their oral presentation.  They also have to create slides that they think would look interesting to a child.

Then, in small groups, their listeners are encouraged to ask questions that they think a child would ask (but they can’t act like children).

These activities generally go pretty well.  Here’s an example of a recent presentation by a group on the “Methods of Applied Mathematicians” (I’ve been given permission to share it): Methods & Tools in Math (in downloadable PowerPoint form) and here, in embeddable Google Slides form: