TED lecturer/alum to deliver commencement address

For Immediate Release

Contact: Sue Wells, Head of School

“Storytelling in Science” Expert to be Pine Cobble Graduation Speaker

Tyler DeWitt ‘97, MIT Ph.D. candidate, advocate for innovative K12 science curricula, returns to campus to deliver commencement address

DeWitt’s TEDX talk generated half a million views since February

WILLIAMSTOWN MA, June 7, 2013. Pine Cobble School is thrilled to announce that

Tyler Dewitt ‘97 will be this year’s graduation speaker. DeWitt is a Ph.D. candidate in microbiology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is also a high school teacher, digital content creator and researcher who advocates the value of good storytelling in science.

In February, the world-famous TED (Technology-Education-Design) Talks web site posted a TEDX talk by DeWitt, entitled, “Hey Science Teachers: Make it Fun.” Since then, the talk has been viewed over half a million times and has been recommended by TED Talks as one of 7 Talks for Inspired Curricula; one of 10 Talks by Inspiring Teachers; and one of 11 Amazing Online Sources for Fun, Interesting Science.

DeWitt’s youtube channel has nearly 20,000 subscribers. The channel features over a hundred “video textbook” lessons; topics range from nuclear half-lifes to polyatomic ions to gas stoichiometry to states of matter. Many lessons have gotten tens of thousands of views; some have gotten nearly 200,000 views.

In his TED Talk, DeWitt rails against what he calls the “tyranny of precision,” the focus on being so accurate in explaining scientific ideas that the concept loses all meaning for younger learners. “Good storytelling is all about emotional connection,” says DeWitt in his TED talk. “We have to convince our audience that what we’re talking about matters. But just as important is knowing which details we should leave out so that the main point still comes across.”

Earlier this spring, a group of Pine Cobble students, grades 5 to 7, watched DeWitt’s TED talk, then wrote stories about scientific principles like states of matter, particle physics, language acquisition, and solar eclipses, using metaphor, a narrative arc and vivid imagery. In an unrelated exercise, all fifth and sixth grade students served as judges in the nationwide Flame Challenge, in which professional scientists competed to explain, “what is time?”

“Tyler’s work is 100% consistent with what we are trying to accomplish at Pine Cobble,” said Sue Wells, head of school. “Every day, we strive to make learning come alive in new ways. After all, our world is a fascinating place, filled with amazing things to discover. Our goal is to help students see that, to remove all barriers to their curiosity and learning. Ultimately, we help guide our students to become lifelong learners who can make connections across a broad landscape of ideas. Tyler is a living model of that approach to teaching and learning, and we are thrilled that he will speak to our students.”

At MIT, DeWitt studies how bacteria transfer pieces of DNA to their neighbors. He also teaches science to high school students from underserved backgrounds through the MITES summer program, and he is a student coordinator for the new MIT+K12 video outreach project. He has served as a fellow with the Educational Foundation of America’s Teaching for Experience program; and he is a National Science Foundation Fellow and a Graduate Resident Tutor atMIT. He has taught high school Biology, Chemistry, and English at independent schools in the United States and South Korea, and he worked as a project manager to develop new K12 science curricula for the state of Florida.

Pine Cobble is a coeducational day school founded in 1937. Nestled in a beautiful setting originally designed as an estate by Olmsted Associates, Pine Cobble supports intellectual rigor, curiosity, and creativity within a caring community. A fundamental tenet of the Pine Cobble experience is character education; nine character pillars — compassion, gratitude, respect, honesty, responsibility, patience, self-control, courage, and cooperation are woven into every aspect of the students’ lives. The School currently serves 125 students, ages two-years-nine-months through ninth grade, from Berkshire County, southern Vermont, and eastern New York.

Pine Cobble’s graduation will take place next Friday, June 14, at 9:30 AM.

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