Thinking Big: Stephen Hawking’s Universe and Science Teaching

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled Some Ways to Interest Students in Science, and one method I suggested was to help students “think big.”   Helping our students ask “big” questions, as Carl Sagan did, was the principle described here: Where did our universe come from?  How big is the Universe? and so on.  Asking questions such as these is a powerful way to interest students in science.

On Sunday, National Geographic Channel as part of its Naked Science programming presents Hawking’s Universe.  As stated in the program’s literature, Stephen Hawking is one of the world’s most famous scientists. But ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, has left him almost totally paralyzed and it is progressing. Unable to walk, talk, or write, his only way of communicating is through a computer program that turns a small movement of a finger or the blink of an eye, into words from a vocal synthesizer.

Accordingly, Hawking remains determined to discover the theory of everything, a complete set of rules for the Universe. Asked in the program are these “big” questions: Where did the Universe come from and where is it going? What is the nature of time? Will it ever come to an end?

Here are two preview videos to give you an idea of the program’s content, and how this would be a good example of bringing the idea of “thinking big” to our students as a way to interest them in science, and a very important and famous scientist.

In this first video, the program explores the idea that no one’s found the Theory of Everything, but when Hawkins discovers that Black Holes emit radiation, he gets very close.

This NGC program will explore Hawking’s major contributions to the understanding of our Universe – from his revolutionary proof that our Universe originated in a Big Bang; to his ground breaking discovery that Black Holes are not completely black, but rather emit radiation and eventually evaporate and disappear, to his insights on string theory. Will he unlock the secret of creation before his time runs out?

In this video, the program explains the new speech software technology that was developed to help Steven Hawking “speak” after he lost his voice in an emergency tracheotomy.

The program, Hawking’s Universe, broadcasts Sunday, August 23 at 10PM ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel.

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University.