3 rules to spark learning | Ramsey Musallam


Translator: Joseph Geni
Reviewer: Morton Bast I teach chemistry. (Explosion) All right, all right. So more than just explosions, chemistry is everywhere. Have you ever found yourself at a restaurant spacing out just doing this over and over? Some people nodding yes. Recently, I showed this to my students, and I just asked them to try and explain why it happened. The questions and conversations that followed were fascinating. Check out this video that Maddie from my period three class sent me that evening. (Clang) (Laughs) Now obviously, as Maddie’s chemistry teacher, I love that she went home and continued to geek out about this kind of ridiculous demonstration that we did in class. But what fascinated me more is that Maddie’s curiosity took her to a new level. If you look inside that beaker, you might see a candle. Maddie’s using temperature to extend this phenomenon to a new scenario. You know, questions and curiosity like Maddie’s are magnets that draw us towards our teachers, and they transcend all technology or buzzwords in education. But if we place these technologies before student inquiry, we can be robbing ourselves of our greatest tool as teachers: our students’ questions. For example, flipping a boring lecture from the classroom to the screen of a mobile device might save instructional time, but if it is the focus of our students’ experience, it’s the same dehumanizing chatter just wrapped up in fancy clothing. But if instead we have the guts to confuse our students, perplex them, and evoke real questions, through those questions, we as teachers have information that we can use to tailor robust and informed methods of blended instruction. So, 21st-century lingo jargon mumbo jumbo aside, the truth is, I’ve been teaching for 13 years now, and it took a life-threatening situation to snap me out of 10 years of pseudo-teaching and help me realize that student questions are the seeds of real learning, not some scripted curriculum that gave them tidbits of random information. In May of 2010, at 35 years old, with a two-year-old at home and my second child on the way, I was diagnosed with a large aneurysm at the base of my thoracic aorta. This led to open-heart surgery. This is the actual real email from my doctor right there. Now, when I got this, I was — press Caps Lock — absolutely freaked out, okay? But I found surprising moments of comfort in the confidence that my surgeon embodied. Where did this guy get this confidence, the audacity of it? So when I asked him, he told me three things. He said first, his curiosity drove him to ask hard questions about the procedure, about what worked and what didn’t work. Second, he embraced, and didn’t fear, the messy process of trial and error, the inevitable process of trial and error. And third, through intense reflection, he gathered the information that he needed to design and revise the procedure, and then, with a steady hand, he saved my life. Now I absorbed a lot from these words of wisdom, and before I went back into the classroom that fall, I wrote down three rules of my own that I bring to my lesson planning still today. Rule number one: Curiosity comes first. Questions can be windows to great instruction, but not the other way around. Rule number two: Embrace the mess. We’re all teachers. We know learning is ugly. And just because the scientific method is allocated to page five of section 1.2 of chapter one of the one that we all skip, okay, trial and error can still be an informal part of what we do every single day at Sacred Heart Cathedral in room 206. And rule number three: Practice reflection. What we do is important. It deserves our care, but it also deserves our revision. Can we be the surgeons of our classrooms? As if what we are doing one day will save lives. Our students our worth it. And each case is different. (Explosion) All right. Sorry. The chemistry teacher in me just needed to get that out of my system before we move on. So these are my daughters. On the right we have little Emmalou — Southern family. And, on the left, Riley. Now Riley’s going to be a big girl in a couple weeks here. She’s going to be four years old, and anyone who knows a four-year-old knows that they love to ask, “Why?” Yeah. Why. I could teach this kid anything because she is curious about everything. We all were at that age. But the challenge is really for Riley’s future teachers, the ones she has yet to meet. How will they grow this curiosity? You see, I would argue that Riley is a metaphor for all kids, and I think dropping out of school comes in many different forms — to the senior who’s checked out before the year’s even begun or that empty desk in the back of an urban middle school’s classroom. But if we as educators leave behind this simple role as disseminators of content and embrace a new paradigm as cultivators of curiosity and inquiry, we just might bring a little bit more meaning to their school day, and spark their imagination. Thank you very much. (Applause)

77 thoughts on “3 rules to spark learning | Ramsey Musallam

  • Ramsey Musallam's Three Rules:
    1) Curiosity comes first.
    2) Embrace the mess (trial and error).
    3) Practice reflection.

  • I wish our chemistry teacher was like this. I don't wanna implicate that he's not good at what he does, but nonetheless his lessons tend to have a rather sleep-inducing effect on me.

    We have a lot of good teachers here at the KSRychenberg in Switzerland, but unfortunately not all of them can be as good as this guy.

  • I don't think I learned too much from high school, people just gave me a bunch of stuff to memorize for a week or so then I'd test on it so I could forget it forever, I did this repeatedly for about 4 years just in HS. That's what I got out of it anyways.

  • Absolutely right on!  I always say, if you want to do well in school, it's starts with humility.  Knowing that you don't know.  This is what invokes that sense of curiosity, because when you claim to know everything about the whole world, the whole world becomes a miserable boring place.  This is why children are always asking questions – they haven't developed an ego yet.

  • Why are all the talks about education most of TED talks are about education aren't there any other subjects to talk about ?

  • Aside from the teachers' attitude toward learning, the entire system really needs a reform. It's not like – especially science teachers – don't like doing fun things in class, they mostly just don't have time for it because there's always the curriculum breathing down the back of their necks.
    Of course it's the students who must pay for this with their interest

  • I have the most boring chemistry teacher you'll ever know. I can't blame him, it's mostly because he's got Parkinson's, but the results are clear. Two people in class are really curious and interested (and I'm one of them) and get superb grades and everyone else is having trouble passing.

  • i'd say yes, it is, but it shouldn't be.
    learned knowledge is nothing compared to actual experience.
    the goal of school should be to enable pupils to make those experiences themselves. school should be about giving children the potential to improve existing formulas, not to make them memorize those formulas as the only correct answer there is and ever will be.

  • Ive done that candle in a glass trick while i was really drunk in a bar… it really hurt cus it fell on the table but the wax somehow picked on my skin.. science!

  • I am in one of Mr. Mussalam's AP Chem classes and I can honestly say he does everything he talks about on his Ted Talk in the classroom. No class is ever boring because he provides us with so many cool experiments/ videos from movies that relate to what we are learning. He is always available to hep us before and after school, even sometimes on the weekends, and connects with us on a personal level which makes everyone love him more. Block 3 Group 3 loves you Mr. Mussalam!

  • It is easier for both teacher and student just to teach/ learn a recipe so they all do it just that. Why you may ask? Because curiosity leads to thinking and thinking leads to energy and time consumption. But we are lazy so we'd rather not think, not ask THE question and even when The question is asked by someone we desimise it quickly because our time and energy is to precious and is needed elsewhere.
    Meh… That was my rant on the subject, a lazy person yet a curious and disapointed student.

  • As the candle goes out, the temp goes down, but pressure does as well, since the volume is essentially constant. A vacuum is then created and the outside pressure "Pushes" up against the cup. I think 🙂

  • Thanks Block 3. I'm going to miss you guys. Sorry for stealing Alex all year…he needed it though 🙂

  • THIS WAS MY AP CHEMISTRY TEACHER FROM HIGH SCHOOL!!! Hands down the BEST teacher I've ever had. There was always something to look forward to in his class. If you're in high school and you have the chance to take a class with him, JUST DO IT!! You will not regret it 🙂 Sincerely, one of Mr. Musallam's former students.

  • I'd say the best role model, and the easiest one to be, is the adult who goes easy on the "DON'T"s. Release any 3-year old into a room they don't know, and watch them literally tear it apart, and ask about everything, until they know everything there is to know about the new environment. That's curiosity, persistence and methodology already ingrained into every child. Natural born scientists. Until adults start going "Don't do that, don't touch that, don't go there, sit down and be quiet!"

  • As a teacher myself, I work hard every day to make the information I'm presenting accessible and entertaining. It's hard, but it's so much more important to me to do my best to instill a sense of curiosity in my students than it is to follow the "pacing guide"

  • Alone**. I can only hope that, as a new teacher, I continue to find ways to motivate and reach my students. Wonderful talk. I hope I can continue to rise to the challenge. 🙂

  • It's never too late of course, and it warms me to hear that you're looking for other ways. I wish you and your kid good luck, and with your attitude I'm sure it will all turn out great =)

    And obviously some "don't"s are still very necessary. 😉

  • yeah, teachers these days are just disseminators of pre-written jargon which preferably just has to be memorized instead of actually understood.

  • Yeh when i was a kid i remember always asking questions but every time my teacher and parents would always respond with "you don't need to know" which really annoyed me;

  • Hi, im a teacher and unfortunately I kind of agree, but its not our choice. By and large teachers want to follow student questions. However government and other forces push for a set curriculum. If we dont follow these people get up in arms. however, if we are to follow the crammed curriculum there is often little time to diverge and follow the cool ideas.

  • aye, I get it… and the fact that public schools are arranged by the government guarantees that students will not get to view governmental entities as what they are; the information will be warped, it will inevitably contain propaganda. the fact that they're governmental brainwashing camps is bad enough, but the teachers are also having their passion for teaching extinguished — if they ran private schools, they might get to do what they actually thought they'd be doing in the first place.

  • It is, but so is the actual first demonstration, using the beaker of water. The line between "fysics" and "chemistry" is a very blurry one. You could in a way even say that her demonstration is more chemistry as the one the teacher did, as with hers, there were actual chemical reactions causing the heat that would result in a lower pressure when it cooled down.

  • This is Maddy… (not Maddie) from the video. Welcome to the 21st century where yes I have my chemistry teacher's number. Just shows how dedicated Mr. Musallam is to his students.

  • And how short-minded some people are. *sarcastic* The only reason a teacher would have a students phone number is obviously erotic right?

  • look when it comes down to it, I think the government should fund schools and they always will because some people cant afford to pay for education. So cheaper depends on who its cheaper for. If we rely on a business model, only those with the money to pay will receive the best education. What is disturbing is that education is becoming about uniformity rather than individuality. Teachers are pressured to teach the same thing leaving little time for exploration. hence previous comment.

  • while I don't agree entirely, the essence of what you have said rings true with me at least. The people in the best position to understand what students need is a good teacher. This guy is a great teacher, he actively looks for things that inspires his students to learn and then has the skills to help them get there.

  • I wanted to take chemistry with him, but my friends insisted I take honors chem with Mr. Milam. Bad choice there.

  • I'd just like to point out that I currently take AP Chem with Mr Musallam and not only do we blow shit up ALL THE TIME but he is also a friend to every student as well as a great educator. Hands down the best teacher I've ever had. He really cares about our learning and thinking

  • There must be a right match between teaching and learning to make education possible. Any comments on http://compatibilitygrid.blogspot.in/ 

  • I was a student of Mr. Musallam's. He taught me AP Chem. To this day, still the most captivating, fun, and amazing teacher I've ever had the pleasure of learning from. Mr. Moose, you are the man. Keep on rockin!

  • This video comes right at the time that I am discovering the central role of curiosity in the learning process. Ramsey, you make me want to stand up and cheer! Thank you!

  • This is the best presentation on the central role of curiosity in the learning process . Curiosity comes first. and it is so vital

  • 教育とは 1、何だろう質問 2、なぜ、どうして質問 3、ふりかえり、どうだったのか質問

  • It didn't take heart surgery for me to realize this problem among my peers at the start of my teaching career, but I appreciate the platform, the wake up call and call to action.

  • Encourage curiosity among students and guide them through the journey of discovery and invention!
    Had always studied about Inquiry based Learning, but mostly couldn't implement it due to several reasons that many times learners moves off track while trying to find answers, which may often require unlearning process.

  • I would love to see a related talk but by an English teacher…Chemistry and social sciences are very hands-on subjects, so it would be interesting to hear some suggestions when it comes to learning a language..

  • Very powerful! I wish that my Chemistry teacher had this teaching approach! Curiosity is the key, but many teachers deliver unwanted information to students every day because "they have to know that"

  • Very interesting! I’m a preschool teacher, and it would be interesting to figure out how to translate this to 2-5 yr olds!

  • "Student questions are the seeds of real learning." Amazing sentiment. Many people of any age tend to ask questions in order to confirm or deny what they may already know. It's a learning technique, and it also demonstrates a unique interest in the material, as well as a desire to learn.

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