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Often overlooked in schools Building metaphor – bulldoze expertise – rebuild in the phrase, imagery and incremental steps
Black hole, Big Bang, dwarf planet, selfish gene
We associate ‘up’ with positive things and ‘down’ with negative things. We associate ‘forward’ with good things and ‘backward’ with bad things. Affection is warmth; anger is heat; love is an electric force. Even when we understand a new idea, we say “I see”. Human beings think in metaphors – and many of these metaphors originate from the universal experience of occupying a human body.
Explanation andy tharby
Explanations have a range of purposes:
• to make something understandable;
• to clarify and expand an idea;
• to give the causes, context and consequences of a situation
• to show how facts and concepts are related and connected.
“There is a reason why it took humans such a
long time to discover the laws of nature, even
though the evidence for such laws was all
around them in the environment. We do not
find it easy to learn new information when we
have no or minimal guidance.”
Daisy Christodoulou, Seven Myths About Education (2014)
Evidence supporting teacher-led teaching:
• Teaching is usually more effective when teachers use methods that
activate learning rather than methods that facilitate learning. (Hattie
and Yates, 2013)
• Cognitive science reveals that the less prior knowledge a student has
about a topic, the more teacher guidance they need. (Kirschner et al,
• Students’ learning and persistence outcomes are better when they
take in-person courses than when they take online courses.
(Bettinger and Loeb, 2017)
“Your number-one mission as a speaker is to
take something that matters deeply to you
and to rebuild it inside the minds of your
Chris Anderson, TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public
Art or science?
“In his youth Albert Einstein spent a
year loafing aimlessly.”
“gigantic flexible snail-shell”
“a marble that rolls in a funnel”
“The gravitational field is not diffused
through space; the gravitational field is
that space itself”
Six keys to great explanation
1. Strong subject knowledge
2. Credibility and clarity
3. Concise design – less is more
4. Concepts supported by real-world examples
5. Metaphor and analogy
7. Chances to elaborate
(Note: explanation ≠ lecture)
Introducing the subject discipline
What’s amazing about this subject?
Why do I find this subject fascinating myself?
Why do we study this subject in school?
What are the main debates and disputes within the discipline?
What distinguishes this subject from others?
How do we do well or badly in this subject?
Where are we heading this year?
Concepts are central to learning
“with the help of the concept, we are able to penetrate through the
external appearance of phenomena to penetrate into their essence”.
• Transcend individual experience
• Create efficiency
• Form building blocks
• Allow for abstraction and generalisation
… however, they should be supported by c
“We understand new things in the context of things we already
know, and most of what we know is concrete … to help students
understand an abstraction is to expose them to many different
versions of the abstraction”.
- Daniel Willingham, Why Don’t Students Like School?
What makes for a good example?
•Connects to prior knowledge.
•As simple as possible.
•Appeals to the senses.
•Comes in multiples.
•Provokes an emotional response.
Examples of examples
“If you burned this book now, its matter would be changed to ash and
smoke, but the net amount of stuff in the universe would be the same.”
“Think how many cubic centimetres there are in the world outside your
window – how many sugar cubes it would take to fill that view. Then
think how many it would take to build a universe. Atoms, in short, are
- Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything: A Journey through Space and
“The story’s power, then, is twofold: It provides simulation
(knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation
to act). Note that both benefits, simulation and inspiration,
are geared to generating action.”
Chip and Dan Heath, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Take Hold and Others
Come Unstuck (2008)
What does psychology tell us?
Stories are interesting.
Stories are easy to understand.
Stories are easy to remember.
See Daniel T. Willingham, Ask the Cognitive Scientist: The Privileged Status of Story,
American Educator (2004)
1. Find the human
2. One trumps one million.
3. Obstacle – conflict – solution.
4. The curriculum as a Russian novel.
1. Watch them
2. Collect them
3. Model them
4. Archive them
5. Prioritise the curriculum
6. Reading as CPD