Some quotes to start us off:
If quantum mechanics hasn't profoundly shocked you, you haven't understood it." -- Niels Bohr
"If you can't explain it to a freshman, you don't really understand it." (paraphrased, from various sources, often attributed to Richard Feynman)
"If your teacher doesn't frustrate the hell out of you, they're not doing their job." -- Me
One of the essential tensions in teaching is the massively inconvenient fact that what feels like learning is not the same thing as actually learning. Students mostly enjoy invigorating lectures, and self report that they learn a lot from them, and they tend to discount the value of other experiences that, research says, actually do matter a lot in producing learning.
I say this is inconvenient because, if students were right about what produces the most learning gains, the job of teaching would be done already. The best explanation of every phenomenon, skill, etc. would "win" the contest, and most of us could go do other jobs.
It's also inconvenient because, even if there weren't a single "best" explanation, I could spend my time crafting my personal best explanations (which gives me a lot of pleasure), and then I could deliver those explanations, giving the students the pleasurable experience of learning.
But the subjective experience of "this is causing me to learn something" doesn't match with the actual moment or experience that does cause the learning.
In fact, the things that cause the learning, by which I mean actually rewiring parts of the brain to produce new and persistent patterns of thought and behavior, are often the most unpleasant parts of the whole schooling process, for both the student and the teacher.
The homework. The talking through things out loud and making mistakes in front of other people. Giving and receiving feedback. Failing. Making something. Editing. Improving something.
Students complain to me all the time that I'm not doing my job: "Why aren't you explaining it? Wouldn't it be better if you just told us what to do, and then we'd do it?"
So there's a lot of frustration in my classes. The hard part is managing the frustration level, creating situations in which learning can happen. But I don't believe that it's my job to eliminate the frustration. It's my job to manage it, to use it, to cultivate it, and turn it toward a useful end.
Don’t use the thing Bret made. Do the thing that Bret does." -- Ned Gulley
Part of my frustration with a lot of the material that's out there in the sciences and mathematics, the popular literature, the textbooks, the lesson plans, ed-tech, etc., is that it seems to be completely unaware of this basic truth, which seems so obvious to me, and which is supported by a lot of research:
Explanations don't work. Feynman (or whoever said that), was partly right. A teacher must be able to figure out the dependency graph for the material they hope to teach, and they have to be able to short-circuit it -- to make it require less than the teacher does herself.
But that doesn't mean that the explanation so produced will actually help the student. That explanation is for the teacher. The student has to produce their own explanation. The test for the student is deconstructing the concept to the point that they could explain it to a freshman.
You're very clever. But it's freshmen all the way down." -- Me
So what is it I want? I want materials that help to cultivate curiousity, frustration, and opportunities to metacognize new stuff, so that the student, reader, listener, video watcher, whatever-you-call-them-in-whatever-medium can get their chance to continue the chain downward.
I want popular science that makes the reader work for it. That helps the reader develop a tension between expectation and reality, helps them develop a way to resolve that tension, and then helps the "reader" create their own "explanation" suitable for a younger version of themselves.
I want to make stuff that helps turn people into an army of student-teachers. Or player-managers, to mix metaphors.
It's hard to wrestle with new stuff. It's hard to be wrong. It's hard to metacognize and deconstruct.
But it's also really fun.
How do we develop materials that will help others get in on the fun?