Stephen Hawking, the ultimate teacher

This post is an ‘extension’ of the previous post concerning the Magic of Q&A beyond expectations.

Back in May 2015, thousands of people gathered at Sydney Opera House for a talk by Stephen Hawking. Appearing in 3D hologram form, beamed in from Cambridge University, the physicist was asked the following question by an audience member: ‘What do you think is the cosmological effect of Zayn leaving One Direction, and consequently breaking the heart of millions of teenage girls across the world ?’

‘Finally, a question about something important’, he replied. ‘My advice to any heartbroken young girl is to pay close attention to the study of theoretical physics, because one day there may well be proof of multiple universes. It would not be beyond the realms of possibility that somewhere outside our own universe lies another different universe – and in that universe, Zayn is still in One Direction’.

Stephen Hawking is the ultimate teacher. Not only does he manage to think up a witty answer to an unusual question, but he also transforms it into an opportunity to make a wider public think differently about how they can relate to his own field of investigation, i.e. cosmology.

The fact that this answer made it to YouTube, as well as widely circulated newspapers (Daily Mail) and magazines (The Week), proves that this opportunity has been used successfully.

I think this is a lesson for all of us who teach, and particularly for Maths teachers whose role it is to answer well beyond the apparent scope of a question. Maths teachers often have to answer ‘the question behind the question’, as it were. This is due to the fact that most often students who don’t get it cannot explain what they don’t get; they just don’t get it, and it’s the teacher’s task to wind back to the source of the problem.

Thank you, Mr Hawking, one of the greatest scientific geniuses of all time, a truly human person and a living example of the 3 dimensions of kindness (more about that later…).

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