* The following are my thoughts and recollections from the WAPT talk by Destin from Smarter Every Day. That was 4 days ago, so I might not have all the facts/quotes totally straight. Sorry.
So tonight I went to Marquette University to see Destin of Smarter Every Day give a talk at the Wisconsin Association of Physics Teachers Conference. You know, the same one I was geeking out about this morning? There you go.
I wasn’t sure what to expect for the talk. What does a YouTube star who does science videos do for a talk? Well, the number one thing I figured out by the end of the session, is why I gravitated towards Destin’s videos over the other YouTube science videos: we share similar thoughts on life and science. I didn’t know that of course, until after the talk, but it makes sense. I tend to be a good judge of character.
The start of the talk was to introduce what he does. I would have thought this was obvious, but a lot of people were there (college kids any ways) for extra credit being offered by professors in order to fill the room. Destin asked the question, and he just laughed, because he knew the truth even if everyone had lied. Then he proceeded to do a live demonstration of the King Rupert’s Drop Explosion, which I linked to in my previous post.
I also took a 4 minute video of it, but I am not going to post it. That’s just for me.
The talk then went into a number of different directions. All of which were pretty hilarious. He shared a few videos of stuff he used to do or make, including some projects from younger years. One that was pretty funny was a college gag he did called “Godzilla for Hire.”
Basically just making Godzilla do different stuff, or take pics of him as different characters. My favorite he shared was, “We ran out of ideas so we just decided on ‘Godzilla with a hot dog for an arm'”
Destin also shared the video that really brought him a ton of attention after posting stuff for a while. It was a video that showed a gift he got for his dad, and something cool about it.
After all of this background stuff, he started to get into the meet of his talk.
1) “Talk up to people. Start with not knowing, and learn together.”
He approaches his videos as a learning experience for him, every bit as much as they are for the audience. He pointed out after the talk (he hung out for an hour and spoke to a small group of us) that his videos always start with him totally ignorant about the topic at hand. He investigates something, and tries to look at things differently. “Look one layer deep than everyone else, and you’ll be one sigma outside the bell curve. Look another layer down, and that’s when awesome stuff happens. That’s when you really learn something cool.”
The videos take a long time for him to produce, but that’s because HE is learning as well. The videos are really him sharing that journey and that knowledge. I think it is one of the things that sets Destin’s videos apart form others. WE are also ignorant, and his journey is our journey. It is fun and interesting. Destin gets excited about things, and we do right along with him.
2) “Don’t just accumulate knowledge. Learn to understand things.”
I was just talking to a colleague about this today. We tend to accumulate a lot of knowledge over the years, but collections of facts are not the same as understanding something. Destin shared that while he holds a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering, he was very ignorant on things he should have known. The prime example was how a helicopter worked.
There are a series of videos on his channel with regards to how a helicopter works. He admitted that when he went out to talk to people about how helicopters worked, he just sort of nodded and said, “Right, right, yeah, sure,” but was thinking to himself what the heck are they talking about?!
The idea is that when we accumulate facts, we THINK we know things. It reminds me of the little kid from Jerry McGuire who tells Tom Cruise “The human head weighs 8 pounds.” And? So what? Neat fact, but that is so little of the story what difference does it make.
I experienced this in my own life: graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin – River Falls, chosen for membership to Sigma Pi Sigma, and knew every equation to solve every physics problem I would come across. Then I took my first class in Modeling Instruction. By the end of the second week, I was a basket case. Everything I worked so hard for, all the time studying, reviewing, mastering concepts, and I understood N-O-T-H-I-N-G. I could do all the problems, teach others to do all the problems, talk a good game, but I had no concept of concepts!
The message is to not just learn x-y-z, but to know “why.” It is no surprise that the most successful students are the ones who ask that question. “Why does it do that,” or, “Why is that?” Those are the questions to ask. Dig deeper, peel back the layers, and look for understanding.
At the end of the talk, Destin hung out and spoke with a few of the people in attendance. For about an hour actually. It was really interesting to hear his take on a variety of topics. He was a really cool, laid back, guy. A humble, family man, who makes his videos to help put his kids through college, but admitted that it takes him away from home more than he would like. Still, it was cool of him to come to Wisconsin.
“What do you people eat here? Brats and Cheese? Have you ever even heard of fruit?”
“Yeah, but it’s behind the brats and cheese, so nobody ever eats it,” yelled out an audience member.
It was cool, and of course I was a stupid fanboy and asked to get my picture with him.
That stupid grin of mine is me trying to not freak out. If I wasn’t biting my lip I probably would have looked more like Jack Nicholson’s Joker.