Let’s Make it Easy

Not long ago, while I was on a couch to the Dolomites, I was drawn in by a conversation between two sisters. As soon as the elder, who was I guess about twelve, caught a glimpse of the first snowy cliffs, she started to explain to her younger sister things like: how orogeny worked and why those mountains were so high. Since she wanted her to follow what she was saying, she tried to select her words carefully so as that even such a topic could sound appealing and be understood by a little girl of eight.Trust me, it was a formidable dissertation. The sign that she had been able not only to catch the girl’s attention – and mine – but also to involve her was that her feed-back was absolutely great: her little sister, in fact, kept on asking a lot  of questions which were actually quite pertinent. She was in. I couldn’t help but wonder if many of my much older students would have been able to reach that simple and effective clarity of thought, which is typical of those for whom studying means understanding rather than the dull repetition of something which has not gone beyond the level of dark matter yet.

I often mention this episode in class as an example of how I think students should approach studying, as, only when you are able to understand a topic to such an extent to make it accessible to anybody, particularly if that anybody is not that smart, you may say to have actually learnt it. That is why when I heard about the Breakthrough Junior Challenge I was absolutely fascinated. The Breakthrough Junior Challenge is an annual competition for students from all over the world, ages 13-18, which consists in submitting a 3 minute video that explains a challenging and important concept or theory in mathematics, life sciences, or physics in a very simple way.The Breakthrough Prizes were founded by Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, Yuri and Julia Milner, and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, therefore, Google, YouTube, Facebook .

The final prize, which consists in a scholarship of $ 250.000 for the winner,  $ 100.000 for the school he attends and  $ 50.000 for the teacher who has inspired the project of the student, is very appealing, for sure, but what I truly encompass is the message of the Breakthrough Challenge : pushing teenagers to use their creativity, technological ability and knowledge to make complexity simple in a new way or language is just amazing. So I started to wonder how I could have made the students of my school take part in the Breakthrough challenge, considering that there would have been a major difficulty for them, that is, the language, as they are Italian. At this point my beloved husband Mr Run came to my aid and decided to put aside his running shoes and turn himself into Mr Webmaster to create a brand new website for our own parallel competition, which we called “Make it Easy Challenge”)with the aim of selecting the contestants, very likely the first Italian contestants, for the Breakthrough.

The next step was to convince the students to join the challenge, and this, trust me, was the difficult part. The admirable colleague, who has supported me in this new project, and I had tried, at first, to captivate them showing the prospects they could have: being the first Italians to take part in the challenge or even, why not, winning the scholarship and go to Los Angels and so on. They seemed genuinely attracted by the idea, but, they eventually kept on hesitating. Something had to be done, so we resolved upon using the most effective weapon teachers and parents have in their hands: threat. Magically about 100 videos came out of the blue and I can proudly say, some of them are very good. Afterwards, the  videos have been watched and voted by the same students who had made them and the 25 chosen will be judged by the other students of my school, hoping that they will join next year edition, and a panel of Maths, Physics and Life Sciences teachers. The winners will the celebrated at the end of this month. So one thing I can say for sure: Mark Zuckerberg, watch this : www.makeiteasychallenge.it! We are coming!

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13 thoughts on “Let’s Make it Easy

  1. So it wasn’t enough for you to have taken over the Globe Theater four hundred years ago, now you want Hollywood! (Attempt at a joke of course.)
    Your point on instruction is very important; the teacher must know the subject very well, but he/she must know the student well also and know how best to present the required information. Pity most pupils of perfectionist and outstanding music performance artists for example when performance perfection is expected of the student.

    • What fascinates me in teaching is its creative aspect, or better, when students succeed in re-creating something unique with their sparkle of youth. These kinds of challenges are just tailored on me ! 😏 And Hollywood?? Why not??😜

  2. Excellent! A fascinating idea and I’m sure that it works; for the better future. I wish that all the teachers were like you and I just hope it’d appear in all in the world 👍👍💖🙏

  3. Great idea and initiative! Sounds like a lot of fun, though I can imagine most of the school “kids” being very embarrassed at the idea at first. You could always discover some precious gem hidden below a wall of shyness and uncertainty, I guess you are not new at that 🙂

    • You are wrong about the “embarassmets”. They are not. If you go and check “our” old website ( You Teach area), you’ll see a great deal of videos and an amazing interpretation of “the balcony scene” with a lot of balconies of Casalpalocco as settings. This is the Instagram generation. They are used to shooting videos or ” stories”. You belong to another gereration, my dear. 😜

  4. I had a look at the topics on offer (but couldn’t work out how to view the videos themselves, or even register as a non-student) and was blown away by the range on offer. If these are even half as good as what they promise they are so, so impressive! (And I smiled at your version of the carrot-or-stick approach: “the most effective weapon teachers and parents have in their hands: threat.”) An excellent initiative, Stefy!

    • Thank you Chris, it has been, it is real fun. In my opinion some of them are very good and creative, especially if you think, that those who took part in the challenge are not the ” best of our breed”, but those who happend to have me ( and my collegue)in their ways. You may have a view of the videos if go through “area ospiti”: mail, your password and write 2a as class.

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