How to Teach Well

David Kennedy: Teaching is a very difficult thing to do well, and it takes an enormous amount of energy, and time, and what you might call just generally psychic resources. I’ve recently learned to fly an airplane, and I have a flight instructor. And teaching a 60 year old guy to fly an airplane is a pretty challenging assignment. And we talk a lot, he and I, about the nature of teaching. Now he’s teaching me a technique and a set of rules and practices and so on. I try to teach people habits of mind and methods of inquiry and so on. So it’s quite different results that we’re aiming at. But when he and I, when we’re up there in the airplane, we have a lot of occasion to discuss what works. What’s effective teaching? How do you really make someone internalize an understanding of something that’s new and exotic to them? And maybe there’s something we ourselves don’t understand perfectly, although we have a better understanding than the student – maybe not a perfect understanding. How do you guide someone to enter a domain of knowledge or a field of expertise in which you’re ahead of them, but maybe not absolutely terrific at it? Those are big challenges, and I’m still learning how to do it I think. I once heard a lecture from a British professor whose name is escaping me at the moment. And he said he began every . . . he was a literature professor. He began every new course that he taught by announcing to the students, “I know a whale of a lot about English literature and you don’t. And my objective is to change that equation in your favor.” And that is a pretty good, rough and ready definition about what my idea of teaching is about.

Recorded on: 7/4/07

 

Changing the equation in the student's favor.

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

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  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.