Tag Archives: understanding

Explanation anxiety

Do you suffer from explanation anxiety?

Do you purposefully shy away from offering a full explanation of your demonstrations, concerned that you might mislead, miss out, or misplace? Are you tempted to leave the explanation until after the demonstration not because you think that would represent good pedagogy, but because you hope your audience will be so thrilled by the effect they’ll overlook any descriptive inadequacy on your part?

Don’t be ashamed! The first step in dealing with explanation anxiety is recognising that you have a problem. You’re amongst friends here. No braying students will laugh at your stumbles, no academic will pick holes in your mostly-right-but-a-bit-rusty-if-you-really-think-it-through models, no science communicator will roll their eyes and tell you they saw this done better at the Exploratorium.

Just honest, constructive peer criticism. Together, we can conquer your explanation anxiety, and help you become the demonstrator you always wanted to be!

— I’ve sat on this post for months, and have rewritten it several times. Ironically, I don’t think I’m explaining myself very well. Time to heed my own advice and publish first, think through completely second. All I know for sure is that when I’m writing, I feel a degree of tension building as I approach ‘the explanation.’

Is there such a thing as “Explanation anxiety”? Do you suffer from it? Comments below, please…

Precision vs pedantry

Over the last few years, making all these demo films, I’ve found myself thrust back into the world of school education. It’s a bit of a shock. I’m young enough to have taken GCSEs myself, but old enough to have been in the first year to sit them. Much has changed.

One thing I find slightly baffling is the obsession with extremely precise terminology. There’s a natural inclination to precision in the sciences, but some of what I’ve seen veers towards the obsessive. It’s not precise, it’s pedantic. And it’s nerve-wracking. I can’t write a sentence of script without the fear of somehow mis-stepping, of treading on some unseen toes and bringing down some unrelenting diatribe about how you can’t use that specific word there, only this one.

Now, I’m old enough and weary enough to battle through such pressures. There are also times when I can dimly recall enough of the physics I once did to be reasonably certain that not all of the advice I receive is… umm… correct.

But if I find myself staring at an explanation with that stomach-knotting dread of you’re doing it wrong, how is a twelve year-old supposed to cope? Respect due, we’re raising them tough these days.

My assumption is that pedantry has crept in because it’s quicker and easier to assess whether the student can recite rote-learned material accurately than it is to judge their understanding against the examiner’s (also-flawed/incomplete?) knowledge.

But that really is an assumption. So, some questions:

  1. Am I right that school science is increasingly pedantic?
  2. Does being able to parrot a very particular definition demonstrate understanding?
  3. …or am I falling into the category of “people who don’t know much about education, but inexplicably think their opinion has some value anyway”?