Einstein explained special relativity to the masses using thought experiments called Gedankenexperiment in German, few examples are here. The kind of explanations given through that experiment was quite easy to understand and relate to. The key point in the experiment was the absurd and almost impossible situations imagined. He revealed that time is just a difference between observed sequence of events and space is the distance between two events that are observed to occur at the same time. Nothing is uniform or static, everything is relative to something.

The reason I brought up Gedankenexperiment is that it should be a key skill developed in every individual right from the childhood. The laboratory experiments are too expensive, needs caution and sometimes impossible to perform. This applies to every field of learning, that is the reason people teach object oriented programming with inanimate objects but give a behavior to it as if it was a living thing. These experiments help grasp the theory much faster and explore the entire lengths of possibilities which in turn helps to apply well when it comes to implementation.

I have observed that many of my trainers were content centric and relied on effective brain dumps. Few of the exceptional trainers really kindled the curiosity and made me explore the roots of a topic and then the thought experiments on the way to the college did the rest. Some of my key learnings were strongly supported by the thought experiments.

Below are some of the points I found useful while learning and teaching

  • Create a picture in the listener’s mind. Visualizations are key to imagination, have a look at a very simple animation done by ‘The Inconvenient truth’ team. A kid can so easily get the idea about greenhouse gases.
  • Kindle the curiosity by planting an unfinished thought experiment in the learner’s mind. I received a lesson in chemistry where there was clear depiction of  how covalent bonds occur between atoms (after explaining the shells and inert gases) such that they enter a steadier state and then the teacher pressed the class to find out another way for atoms to steadier state. We found it and all the teacher had to do was to mention what that kind of bond is called.
  • Encourage silly questions, they trigger the best imaginations.
  • Times change, visualization tools change, keep adapting. Prezi, GoAnimate, Visual Thesaurus  are some of the few which can help in the modern classroom.
  • Time to think, this is as important as the time to teach. Crunching in more sessions and home work can eat away the time without providing enough value.
If you get a chance to teach, try it more visually such a way that it promotes Gedankenexperiment and check the results it brings.

Image: Worakit Sirijinda /


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