I've been teaching programming for a while with poor success. I reduced the 3 Normal Forms of relational database structure to 4 short, clear sentences using ordinary words. But for someone to really "get it" they need experience to visualize the problems and how they will be solved. Understanding the parts and situation is hard enough and takes time and familiarity, but starting to see the problems requires vastly more awareness.

For example, there was a recent question about someone tutoring a student who didn't see the point of learning about arrays. Well, arrays are the most fundamental data structure. Maybe people have to discover the need for something for themselves, and no amount of pictures or anecdotes can bypass personal experience? Maybe insight can not be conveyed, just like we cannot 'grow' a plant, only provide the right conditions?

If true, then teaching is not about... Teaching - an active verb, it is about environment, time and necessity. If someone needs to learn something, they will be forced to invent the concepts in their own mind. We don't have Universal Serial Brain yet, so we cannot get one idea in to someone else's head.

Should we "reexamine all that we've been told" about education?

  • $\begingroup$ I once started someone's car using a pencil. No one and no book had ever taught me that. $\endgroup$
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 29, 2018 at 21:09
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure what you've been told about education, but it does sound like you may be having some trouble breaking down the components of learning, and may also be holding your students to very high standards. Not everyone will be able to figure out how to start a car with a pencil, even if you teach perfectly! Remember: they only need to come out better than they came in. Help your students to build rich mental models. Visualizations help tremendously. Check out "How People Learn" from the NAP, honestly the best book I ever read about education. $\endgroup$
    – Ben I. Mod
    Oct 30, 2018 at 2:27
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I've been thinking about this since you posted, and it occurs to me that clear, succinct, and terse are a great measure of understanding, but not a great way to teach. If the goal is rich mental models, then we need to build up a picture slowly, making sure that each aspect of the system is being built correctly in students' minds before moving on and building the next system $\endgroup$
    – Ben I. Mod
    Oct 30, 2018 at 16:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ A koan-like series of statements can be how you end your studies, but it shouldn't be where you start. $\endgroup$
    – Ben I. Mod
    Oct 30, 2018 at 16:26
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    $\begingroup$ IMO, this belongs on the site, not in meta. I have suggestions, but I'll save them for the wider audience. @BenI.'s comment will also expand well into an answer. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Oct 30, 2018 at 20:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Buffy From what I understand, this question clearly does not belong on the main site, and would be immediately closed as Too Broad, Unclear, Subjective, Inappropriate, illegal, immoral and fattening. I thought of it as a question about overall direction or definition, so it fits here. Not sure why it wouldn't? No matter where I put something or how I word it, it is wrong. $\endgroup$
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 31, 2018 at 12:02
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    $\begingroup$ It is a question about teaching, not about the site rules or mechanics. i.e. not meta at all. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Oct 31, 2018 at 12:11
  • $\begingroup$ I think of it as a question about the 'philosophy' of teaching, thus meta by definition. If it is about the overall set of what is considered appropriate for the site, and it is rejected by the site, then what do I do? Appeal to The Supreme Meta? $\endgroup$
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 31, 2018 at 12:17
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    $\begingroup$ @BenI. Thank you for the great book reference. $\endgroup$
    – user 85795
    Oct 31, 2018 at 12:33
  • $\begingroup$ I would put this on the main site, list your 4 sentences as an example, and make a better point to explain your question. Right now there's not much of a question except in the title. I clicked becuase I was like "why are you expounding someone?" and I thought it was a weird choice in words. $\endgroup$ Oct 31, 2018 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ @YetAnotherRandomUser the Title is based on another meta post that has been commonly quoted. I guess it is not as well known as I thought. Hard to say anything meaningful and understandable without some common ground. Which, is what the question is about. I don't want to ask it on the main site unless I know it will not be immediately excoriated. $\endgroup$
    – Scott Rowe
    Nov 1, 2018 at 1:38
  • $\begingroup$ @BenI. Thank you for the book reference, I wish someone had pointed it out to me decades ago. My education was not about how to educate, so apparently I know basically nothing about it, like most subject matter experts. A few pages showed me realms I never knew existed. Don't we all just "learn stuff" more or less automatically? Yes and no. Learning is easy and inborn. Teaching is complex, confusing and inscrutable. There are no SE sites for how to recognize words or patterns, or remember things. I still say apprenticeship is the way to go. Just ask Mayan children. $\endgroup$
    – Scott Rowe
    Nov 8, 2018 at 2:56


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