When I help students during the office hours, I usually ask them to explain to me what they think they know about the problems or questions first, before I attempt to give any explanation or clarification. It does not matter whether they can give a very coarse or elegant explanation about the questions in hand. I can identify their prior knowledge and, more importantly, incorrect understanding of concepts. For the former, I can decide where in the curriculum I may begin to explain to approach the question at hand for that particular student, and for the latter, I can remove the stumbling block for that student’s knowledge which may actually harm any further learning because of the wrong concept he/she possesses.
There was an interesting article published in today’s NPR news in education section: “Why Teachers Need To Know The Wrong Answers.” I was so excited by this article as it stroke many key things I value in education, such as identifying wrong answers that students have, encouraging students to pose questions for better learning, and recognizing subtle difference between teachers being passionate about success of students’ learning and those who being enthusiastic about the subject matter they teach. I wholeheartedly agree with the statement in the news, “Teachers who find their kids’ ideas fascinating are just better teachers than teachers who find the subject matter fascinating.”
The example addressed in the news, pondering about the reason why it is hot vs. cold in different seasons, is exactly one of the concepts I teach in the introduction to oceanography class so I felt so elated. Oftentimes incorrect concept comes in when it sounds so reasonable. Who would doubt the notion that we would feel more warmth when we are closer to the Sun and colder when we are farther away from it, without the knowledge about the tilt of Earth’s rotating axis?
Letting the students to ask questions -so they can think- is one great step in education, I suppose. Through the process of reflecting the issue and composing a reasonable question, students can experience a crucial process in deeper learning. It doesn’t matter whether they could get the ‘correct’ answer right away or not. Learning new knowledge and acquiring a higher level of understanding is more than just to get the right answer.