How do I . . .?

I think my goal this year for all my students is to have them stop asking this question at the drop of a hat.  It’s a question students ask when they think I have all the answers.  Sometimes I know the answer.  In fact, I’d say 90% of the time, I know the answer.  But I always say, “That’s what you have to figure out.”  What I’m trying to convey is that the answer isn’t the important thing, the figuring it out is.  Most of the time, as the saying goes, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”  My answer, or how I would do something, is different from how my students would do it.  I want them to find their own way, not my way.

My high school students are definitely getting there.  They do ask, “How do I” questions, but they’re framed differently.  They’ve done some research, and they say, “It looks like I can do X and it looks like I need Y to do it. What do you think?”  Then I can guide them, tell them they actually need D or that they need F in addition to Y.  Then I’m adding to what they know and not just giving them the answer.

Middle school is harder and I need more scaffolding for them.  What I often do is give them the starting point and let them go from there.  For example, today my students were having robots draw shapes.  They figured out to go forward and turn, go forward and turn.  I pointed out the block that lets them turn by specific degrees and the block that creates a loop.  Then I asked, what degree turn do you need to make a square or a hexagon and how many times do you repeat that.  I had a group create a star and another group try a circle.  I wouldn’t be that specific with high school.

I really do want my students to build the skill of figuring stuff out for themselves.  Of Googling, of connecting online to ask questions, of trying something to see if it works.  Those are the skills that will last a lifetime.

One Reply to “How do I . . .?”

  1. I’m Josh Williams. I am a Junior Business major at Guilford College. I can relate to your views and your claims about what I would rename as “problem solving or critical thinking”. As I make it through my college life, I have seen a big difference in the type of learner that I have become. My first attempt at the college study was brutal for me. I came from a public school that didn’t emphasize the idea of critical thinking. I would call my high school experience “cut and dry”. Similar to the SAT test. When taking this test, the questions are very simple, either you know the answer or you don’t. The work I usually do here at school is very opinionated. Professors give us plenty of information that will expand our mind but when we are questioned or tested on the information, the professors don’t necessarily check for right or wrong, they let us search our own mind and come up with an interpretation.

    Like you said, these forms of learning become more concrete I feel. One example is finding a job after college. I can apply these lessons to the process of hearing others stories of getting employed then take that an translate that process to fit my needs and wants.

    All in all, I agree with your efforts to switch the thinking of the young people. I don’t know the basis of your class, but I would promote to you to try the very approach that I spoke of above. Have your kids engage in more opinionated work. Have them talk through their answers. Try group work, class discussions, and less yes or no questions. Make them explain.

    – Josh

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