What is the Feynman technique?

How can you use the Feynman technique to explain something in a simple way?

Richard Feynman (1918-1988) is considered one of the greatest physicists ever, in the line of Einstein, Bohr and Hawking. He pioneered quantum electrodynamics, developed the Feynman diagram to visually represent the strange behaviour of elementary particles, had a key role during the Second World War in the Manhattan project to develop a nuclear weapon and introduced the concept of nanotechnology.

His secret weapon as a didactician was later renamed the Feynman technique and consists of 4 steps: Define the subject, tell it to a child, discover the parts you don’t know yet and finally organise your pieces of knowledge into a logical story.

The technique works as follows. After you have determined the subject in which you want to immerse yourself, write down all the knowledge you have about this subject in a way that a six-year-old child can understand it. Avoid jargon and additional abstract concepts. As described above, if you limit yourself to complex terminology, then restrict yourself to naming boxes, without looking inside them. Be as concise as possible because a child can only pay attention for a limited time. Think of the famous “elevator’s pitch”: you only have the limited time of a lift ride to get your point across. After that, it is time to pause and consider what elements are missing to make your knowledge coherent. After you have filled in these gaps, you can rearrange your notes into a logical and clear story.
Feinman defines a name as a box and you have to look inside the box. If you really know something, then you can break that knowledge down into pieces and make new connections. He writes: “See that bird? It’s a brow-throated trush, but in Germany it’s called a halzenfugel, and in Chinese they call it a chung ling, and even if you know all those names for it, you still know nothing about the bird. You only know something about people: what they call the bird. Now that thrush sings, and teaches its young to fly, and flies so many miles away during the summer across the country, and nobody knows how it finds its way.”

According to a 2013 study, four-year-old girls ask 390 questions a day… So let the child in you loose and ask the why question at least ten times a day!

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