One of the more interesting aspects of being a MAETy1 student (if you stumbled here, I just started Grad school at Michigan State and this website is chronicling that journey) is the Quick Fires. It caused me to think a lot about the value of putting students in uncomfortable situations. Every now and then, I think it is important to “throw a curve ball” to the students. We desire for them to be fully functioning members of society, which includes having to develop skills that they can use in situations where they don’t have a clue what is going on.
Be honest: how often in your daily life do you face that situation? A lot. We take for granted that they know how to do that, but have we spent time helping them develop a troubleshooting matrix that they can use? Have we helped learn how to ask questions that lead to more questions which lead to transformation?
Warren Berger (2014) wrote an entire book about the need to foster questioning techniques in our own lives, as well as in our students. He tells us that “the Why/What if/How progression offers a simplified way to approach questioning; it’s an attempt to bring at least some semblance of order to a questioning process that is, by its nature, chaotic and unpredictable” (33).
My proposal for a way that this can be used in middle school would be to throw a similar assignment at them (perhaps to do something similar only in this case to be used to teach a family member about Alexander the Great). Next, sit back and watch (hear if we are being honest) the reaction.
After that, invite the students to jot down some ideas of how they could conquer the task. The students could then share with the group, after which the students would individually think about what they should do. Finally, the teacher could lead a whole group discussion about it, with visual cues.
What would this accomplish? First, the students had to work for it. The first step to independence is to be able to think on your own without the teacher telling you. Second, the assignment fosters students’ ability to think individually in an attempt to avoid group think.
Third, it then allows students to do as Socrates would advise: test their ideas against the ideas of others. Fourth, the process will give the students a framework that they can use in other situations. Finally, the assignment will set them up so that you can do something similar to them later without the help.
So, why is it important to do it this way rather than give them bulletted lists of things to do? Josh Bransford (2000), author of How People Learn, writes:
“A key finding in the learning and transfer literature is that organizing information into a conceptual framework allows for greater “transfer”; that is, it allows the student to apply that was learned in new situations and to learn related information more quickly” (p. 17).
As educators, we need to pay attention to more than the product, particularly in middle school. The process is much more important, and more specifically students knowing and owning the process is more significant. When students can take what they have learned and apply it correctly to other academic content effectively, that’s fantastic. However, it is more important for them to be able to use what they learn in the world outside of school.
Another way that this can be done is by introducing students to Wicked Problems. Give them problems that may not be solvable. Allow them to feel real life in the class. Novel idea, right?
Bransford explains, “Transfer from school to everyday environments is the ultimate purpose of school-based learning. An analysis of everyday environments provides opportunities to rethink school practices in order to bring them into alignment with the requirements of everyday environments”(2000).
Berger (2014) also said this: “Developing a level of comfort with uncertainty is worthwhile because …life is filled with it” (187). What better way to foster that comfort than to have uncomfortable situations?
What do you think? Could this be a useful tool for helping our students develop their own trouble shooting matrix that can be transferred to multiple situations?
Bransford, J. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.