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We are completely surrounded by miracles, and I’m not talking about the face of Jesus in a tortilla. If you take the time to really think about things, you can’t help being amazed by what you see around you. Richard Feynman, the Nobel Laureate physicist, noted that trees are made from nothing but sunlight and air. Somehow, the plant manages to combine carbon from the air and the energy from the sun to grow a towering tree from a tiny seed. It seems to us that there is nothing there, just some light from the sun, and “empty” air, we can put our hands right through it. But this nothingness turns into something quite large and solid. Take some time today to look around and wonder.

Richard Feynman said of winning the Nobel Prize, that he didn’t need honors, “I’ve got the prize. The prize is the pleasure of finding things out.”

There are lots of great videos of Richard Feynman on youtube, I recommend the “Pleasure of Finding Things Out” series, here:

Richard Feynman, Pleasure of Finding Things Out, Part 1

All of Feynman’s 1964 lecture series are posted at the Tuvo Project, which includes additional text and comments. You’ll need to download and install Silverlight from Microsoft to see it, when you click on the link you’ll be prompted to download.

Nothing much has changed in public school education since I was a child in the seventies. Children are grouped together based on their age, not their aptitude, knowledge, or interest in any particular subject, and taught exactly the same thing as every other child.  The children who are at the lower end struggle to keep up and those at the higher end struggle to stay engaged. Law upon law is passed to ensure that kids get the same education in the same grade level. Why? Why can’t kids work at their own pace? Why not group kids according to their abilities? 

Salman Khan started out creating a few videos to tutor his cousins remotely. The videos were so popular that he created the Khan Academy, where kids can watch videos of math, biology, and history. Then they can practice what they learn and gain competencies, each one building on the previous one, until they have mastered advanced concepts. Some teachers are using this method to “flip” what they do in the classroom – they assign the videos as homework, then have the kids do “homework” in class, while the teacher is there to help them. After doing the exercises, teachers (and students) can see progress.  

Teachers can identify students who are “stuck” at a particular level, and even have students who have mastered the topic help the ones who haven’t been able to progress. Each student works at his or her own pace. One surprising result is that kids who start out at lower levels of competency, working at their own pace, do better over time – they become high performers. This doesn’t usually happen in a regular classroom. Most students who start out behind, end up behind. In Palo Alto, California, the school district is trying out the concept of letting the kids work at their own pace, and showing great results.

Can you imagine if all the greatest teachers in the world made videos you could watch, on every subject?

You can watch a great video of the inspiring story of Salman Khan on Ted.com, here:

Salman Khan Video

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