What’s your favourite educational memory?

Because we all go through different educational systems, there is much to be shared about great models of teaching and learning. Tell the community about the best moments from your educational experience, and what made them so special.

When I was doing my BSc in chemical physics, my great electronics professor, Al Slavin (a solid-state physicist), gave us all a remarkable piece of advice about the difference between micro and macro understanding. That is, how a given tool works on the inside and how it works within a larger system.

We were in the lab, and the subject at hand was the transistor. A great piece of solid-state technology in which semiconductors do amazing things at the molecular scale. At the scale of a circuit, however, a transistor is just a switch, though it’s also pretty amazing for producing specific electronic outcomes.

We callow undergrads were getting caught up in the microscopic scale of things; Al wanted us to just deploy the device and make our circuits do their thing. We were getting tied up in knots, trying to make the micro-macro connections; he was getting caught in our widening student-y gyre.

Finally, he said: You know, you don’t really need to know how a carburetor works in order to drive your car. In fact, most of us really have no idea what makes the engine work. But every time we get in the driver’s seat, we know exactly what to do with the gas, clutch, and brake pedals, the steering wheel, the indicator lights. We just get in and go. There’s no need to worry about what the carburetor is doing from moment to moment, and maybe it’s better NOT to think about it at all when you’re in traffic. Just drive.

Huh, I said to myself. That made a lot of sense. So I grabbed the transistor, stuck it in my circuit board, fiddled with the other components, and turned on the power. My LEDs danced, my speaker made noise, and the lab experiment was completed.

Never looked back.

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What a great memory! Some excellent advice too, and like you’ve described, somewhat groundbreaking to discover it in the moment.

For my part, while I can’t hold to one specific instance/moment in a classroom, what keeps coming to mind are my teachers in high school – almost all women, working at the school in addition to their other roles as mothers, wives, daughters, etc. simply because they were passionate about teaching, education, and the subject. Instead of the focus on rote learning that is typical of the Indian education system that I completed, these women encouraged a deeper understanding, connection, and appreciation of the subjects they taught (be it English Literature, Chemistry, Maths, Physics, or something else). One in particular even demonstrated this passion and approach by coming in to teach an additional literature course, despite having reached the state-mandated retirement age – for her, being able to come teach us and converse with us about books was more rewarding and important. I draw on these memories when I’m seeking inspiration in my own daily work, and it adds fuel to my fire to help make education equitable, approachable, valuable (the list goes on).