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Interview with Paul Anderson

Journalist: Haleema Ahmed

Haleema Ahmed: Hello everyone and welcome back to SciSection. I'm Haleema your journalist for this week and today we are delighted to have Mr. Paul Anderson, better known as Bozeman Science. Besides having produced hundreds of life saving videos for students across the globe, Mr. Anderson now helps consult and train teachers, administrators, and professors. Thank you for joining us.

Paul Andersen: Absolutely. Thanks Haleema for having me. It'll be fun to talk.

Haleema Ahmed: Yeah, definitely. So just to begin, I think a lot of our listeners know you as the guy who kind of teaches the science to us and helps us before big tests. So we want to get to know a little bit about you besides that kind of aspect of being a teacher. So going back to when you were a student, what was your least favorite subject in school?

Paul Andersen: That's a good question. You know, I don't think it was like subjects as much as it was teachers that I had. So like for example, I had a math teacher that was fantastic and I really loved math. And then there was a year where I had a math teacher who was not that great and I didn't really like math. And so I can't think of like one subject. I was always interested in science obviously, but I liked art. I liked PE like, it really depended on like who the teacher was. I guess that's how I would answer that question.

Haleema Ahmed: Some of that passion that you had for like art and gym and stuff, is that something that you still pursue today?

Paul Andersen: I wish no. We were just visiting our son in Houston and he's been doing some painting and we did some painting and it was just fun. I hadn't done it in years and I think it's just, I think you can get good at anything if you just do it enough. And so obviously I've spent, spent a lot of time kind of teaching and learning about science and making videos. So I think I've gotten better at that, but I really think humans, if you practice anything, you can get better at it.

Haleema Ahmed: Definitely. I think since you pursued biology in like your education, I want to know, is there a specific topic in biology, maybe even like a specific molecule doesn't really matter, but something that really, really fascinates you.

Paul Andersen: Yeah. I think, I think when you talk to anybody who teaches life science like biology you either are a big picture person or a small person and not a small person, but a small picture person. So like in biology, what is small, it's like looking at DNA and molecules and how all of that works. Or on the big end, it's looking at evolution and ecology and looking through time. And so if you were to ask me which one of those, and I definitely the big picture, one, I really love thinking about big systems and evolutionary change. That being said, when you just talk about like, what's your favorite molecule? I think like every biology teacher, the easy answer is just DNA which is not really that exciting to me as a molecule. I think it's what, what DNA makes of the proteins that are made from the DNA. So I think it's just like a house. I like architecture and buildings. So like what things are made of, but I wouldn't find a blueprint of how those things are made that exciting. So, yeah, I dunno. I mean, I really like, and not even life science, I, the physical sciences, I like engineering. So I just am mostly a curious, kind of a person and I love learning.

Haleema Ahmed: And I can definitely see just in the content that you produce, everything is a really, really big picture. You're able to connect something as abstract as like, I don't even know, like DNA and with your videos, I find that I can kind of understand the applications of it in the big picture, which is something I think in school is not really brought forward as much. You know, we're very, we're taught things in a very abstract manner where you're kind of just sat in class, like, how is this ever going to help me? What, what am I ever going to do with this? Whereas with your content, I found that I can think like, Hey, that does happen there. Or that is, that does occur. That's, that's really interesting as well. And I think lastly, in terms of the rapid fire questions, what is one thing about you that people would be really, really surprised to know?

Paul Andersen: Let's see. Oh, I used to be in a punk rock band, so I was a drummer in a band called Scribbled Beauty. You won't be able to find it. I don't think on the internet, but people are always kind of amazed by that. I didn't look like a punk rock band. I just looked like I do right now, but it was just something I did when I was younger.

Haleema Ahmed: That, that definitely is surprising. Okay. So you completed your undergrad degree in biology. Why did you decide to pursue like teaching versus a lot of the other careers available in biology? I don't even know, like medicine or research or whatever.

Paul Andersen: Yeah. I think like education was always in my family. So my father was a teacher. My mom was a teacher. My grandma was a teacher. So like education has been there, but when I went to university, I did not want to be a teacher. So like a lot of students in high school, I was going to be a doctor. So that didn't last very long. When I went to school, I just didn't enjoy a lot of just where that was headed. So then I changed majors and I was going to be a biologist for a while. And then I, it took a long time in university to finally decide on education. But when I took those classes, the education classes, it seemed just really natural. Like I love just explaining things to other people and learning about the science. It seemed like it meshed my love of, or like how the world works. And also, I really like working with people. I've done a little bit of science as well, and I've found that it just didn't resonate with me. Like I don't want to spend a lot of time in a lab or working on a problem. I really like that interpersonal connection. And so, yeah, I think that's just the lesson for me was I just took a long time, but once I found what I wanted to do, then I really haven't changed since.

Haleema Ahmed: And I think, although it's often undermined, you could say teachers play a really, really important role in a lot of working professionals. You mentioned that you want, you want to do initially become a doctor and your videos are probably helped a lot of people become a doctor and whatever, whatever careers there are out there as an educator, not only to the students that you had before you decided to switch gears and do teaching educator, educating teachers how does it feel to have that kind of impact on students? Not only as I said to your students, but to a ton of people across the globe, is there like a pressure associated with that too?

Paul Andersen: Yeah. I think not so much. I think definitely pressure for the kids that are in your classrooms. So like, I think there's a, it's important to say what's the difference between making a video on YouTube and then being a teacher. So like being a teacher with students in the class, like, it goes both ways you form relationships and like, you really are accountable for how they do. I would say when you put a video on the YouTube, it's almost like right into textbook was back in the day. So like you're putting a lot of information out there and I'm sure just like a good textbook a lot of students find value in that. But I don't feel like I'm teaching those people on the internet. I think that's kind of a real personal kind of difference, but it is weird. Like Haleema I'll just run into people in an airport or something and it'll just be a kid who's like, Oh my gosh, you're Bozeman guy. And so it is kind of weird. You don't get a sense of the scope of it until you go there. I can tell you one thing, like just to kind of pivot to COVID for a second, I've done a lot of work in schools and when you talk to kids right now, it's really interesting how interested they are, kids who are deciding what they want to do in the future. They're interested in things that didn't used to be that exciting, like epidemiology and public health. And so like the thing about education is what happens like for you right now - we won't see that in society for five, 10 or 15 years, but it will have an impact like where you are. And so I think I probably had an impact, like a lot of other people. And so, yeah, it feels nice. It's also like the feedback you get on the comments section, lots of times are not great on YouTube videos, but it is really positive feedback. Like thank you. I was stuck and your 10 minute video like saved me. And so, yeah, I guess I feel good about that, but not accountable for that.

Haleema Ahmed: Yeah. And I think what you said about the comment section, when you're scrolling through your videos, I don't think it's uncommon to see things like, I wish my teacher could teach like this, or you took 10 minutes versus the X amount that my teacher did. And I think, although that from the outside point of view is definitely nice for your content it also says a lot about the way that things are taught. So this is kind of multifaceted, but firstly, what do you think it is about your teaching method that has such an appeal to students across the globe? Because I find that for example, if you were to take the teaching methods that students have in India, per se, my parents are from India. So it has some of that insight. And you went to try to apply that to a Canadian student. It wouldn't necessarily work, but I found that with your videos, it seems to be like transcending borders, what it is about the method that allows it to us to do so?

Paul Andersen: Right. So I think one thing, I think people don't understand about education they're in it. So they think they have an understanding of how it works, but they're not behind the scenes. So like just in, in the medical field or engineering, there is current research on how to do things like learn how to solve a problem or cure a disease and in education we've been working on the same thing for a long time. So there are research journals, there's a lot of active research in what's the best way to teach. And let me tell you in science, what's the best way to teach. We know that now - it's to put in the position of a scientist so they can try to understand the science. And they feel like when they're doing that, instead of just memorizing a bunch of facts, they're learning a skill. So like in the future, they can, they can eventually learn to apply what they're doing to solve problems. And so like in my classroom, it would be a little different than my YouTube video was. But in my classroom, what I would hope to see is that it's not me talking all the time. It's students interacting with each other and students trying to solve problems. And I think that's something that is cutting edge when it comes to education in a lot of countries, I'm not going to like say all of India, but I have met a lot of teachers from there who it's just like rote learning and so much content that they have to memorize and so much that they have to remember that there's no application of that. And so I guess that's a lens to think about like what you would see in a lot of science classrooms in Canada or the U S is cutting edge when it comes to teaching students science and how to learn and love science. Also like one thing I've learned is it's really abstracting. What we're trying to teach is super abstract. So when I ever make a video, I try to think of what's a real concrete example that I could use to teach this. It's hard as a teacher cause like I understand a lot of the science and so I can't remember what it was like to just learn it. And so I try to think of like, what are really concrete examples? You already heard me use one, like, I am more interested in the house than the blueprints for the house. So like giving things like that to students so that you can make that bridge from the concrete abstract to the abstract, I think is helpful.

Haleema Ahmed: Yeah, definitely. I think one of the videos that you made was about, I think DNA replication or something and it had the whole pizza thing and that's really easy to remember just understanding the pizza model and all of that. Very, very, very true. And I'm going back to the whole idea of science education and allowing students to kind of apply the information that they're learning, I guess, with COVID a lot of that has kind of like dissipated because we're not really doing labs anymore in school. And I think science was abstract in the way that I guess I was learning it, for example, even before COVID, but now it's just like, there's a sideshow of teachers sharing on the screen and I'm just learning. I don't even know what's going on because there's no real fundamental application to it. So although this is kind of like a big question. How do you think this is going to impact depending on how long COVID is like the future of student education, students entering university, that kind of thing.

Paul Andersen: Yeah. I think it's like, like anything with COVID there's going to be good and there's going to be bad. Like, the bad right away that we could speak to right away is I think this year is going to be not a last year in education, but it's going to be a really hard year to get back. So like, if you're saying you're struggling in your classes, imagine it, what it's like to be a kindergartner or a grade one student, who's trying to learn how to read and try to do that through Zoom. So like a lot of people are just gonna miss fundamental skills that will take a long time to kind of, to build those back again. That being said, I think what COVID will allow us to do is to take a pause and start to think about what is the point of education and what is the value of teachers. It's not just to be there to give you information, but it's to support you. Like we're seeing a lot of conversations around social, emotional support and like, how can we give kids, not just like the ability to answer a multiple choice question, but an authentic way to understand and, and, and, and make the world a little bit better. So even though your classes might not be great, your science classes, I've seen some incredible science classes right now using COVID that are like sharing data sets, connecting classroom to classroom looking through complex problems together. And also instead of taking a paper and pencil test to show what content, you know, like Haleema, this is a great example of what, what school should be like, you making a podcast and interviewing people and then put it in on the radio. So other people can, can learn from you. That's what education should really be like. And it's not like the education that we've kind of been dealt is it doesn't work during COVID. And I hope it doesn't work in the future.

Haleema Ahmed: That is very, very true. In some classes I found that there's definitely, they're trying to reproduce what we did in school, but online that's clearly not working. And then for some courses that I've had just for personal anecdotal examples is our teachers making us create videos based on test questions and making us explain it to them. That's really interesting. I think it allows us to better understand the information and remove a lot of the anxiety associated with tests, I guess, during a way now, producing science videos and science educator content, you're now catering towards, I guess, educating educators on different ways that they can teach in that kind of thing. So could you talk to us a little bit about what you're pursuing now?

Paul Andersen: Yeah. So I'm, I'm outside of the classroom right now. So I'm a consultant. So I do a little bit of YouTube work now, but mostly work teaching teachers. And so in the, in the States we have a new set of science standards called they're called the Next Generation Science Standards that kind of get at what we hope science classes should be like a lot of it's about like the content you need to learn, but more importantly, it's about the skills and the practices you need to do. And so like my job right now well before COVID was like traveling around and working with teachers in schools on how can we make our classrooms more engaging. Yesterday, for example, in the morning I was working with teachers in Spain, there's a cohort of teachers and we were just doing this in zoom about how can you teach some of these thinking skills to students during, during this time. And then in the afternoon, I was working with teachers in Hawaii and we were doing a similar kind of thing. How could we get kids to engage in authentic phenomena? And we were doing ones that were in Hawaii. So we were looking at these, these spiders called stick spiders and how they form echomorphs, which are these really interesting biological phenomena that show up, but trying to show the teachers, how kids in Hawaii should be engaging in phenomena that are in Hawaii. Not in wherever Ontario, like find things that are local to you and important to you. So like that's, my new passion is really working with teachers and supporting teachers, to make our classes more engaging. It's, it's hard because I don't get that classroom experience that I had back in the day. But you can have just like with YouTube, you can, you can touch a lot more students that way. If I interact with teachers and then their classroom changes, then you get kind of that exponential growth of an idea.

Haleema Ahmed: That's very true because obviously there's only one of you and you're able to create content for so many people that are able to find your videos, but when you're helping these teachers fix their classrooms and then that just kind of has an exponential kind of growing effect - you could say. And I think just for our very, very last question, this is kind of a situational thing that I think a lot of students will find themselves in, especially science students, you're setting for a test and there's a concept in front of you and you just can't get it. Like you just don't understand it and you've tried everything. You've tried YouTube videos, practice problems, whatever, but you don't understand it. What is your advice or what is the course of action that you think a student should take when they're in that kind of situation?

Paul Andersen: Yeah, I think like for me, just trying to, like, I can't tell you how much I've learned as far as science, by trying to explain it to other people. So like a lot of people see the YouTube videos as me just learn, like showing you all that I know about science around some concept, but you don't see the behind the scenes. So for me putting together a slideshow of how to explain whatever transcription and translation through a pizza factory, like, and me using that and then teaching you is how I learned the science. And so like, just sit next to your like sister or brother or your mom and just like, hey, I want to try to explain this concept to you and then when I get stuck, can you help me through it? So I think don't think of learning as a really isolated thing that you can figure out on your own, like use other people, but really the only time you learn anything. And I think you talked about this briefly is when you're trying to explain it to other people, and then the community together is learning together. That's not only how schools should work, but that's how science works. Science is not one person just in a room trying to figure it out. They meet once a week and it's a community working together. So I guess that would be my biggest advice. You're not alone and lean on other people.


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