You Helped Me Know That I Know It

Patrick Morgan
Adjunct Faculty, CEWD and Youth Courses

“I don’t get it. Can you do it for me?”

I am in Community Education and Workforce Development, and work mainly with the Youth Classes. None of the classes that I teach last longer than a week. Most of the students probably will not remember me a week from now.
I get this question a lot; my students are here because their parents wanted them out of the house for a few hours during the summer, to give the kids something fun to do while the parents are at work. I always answer the question the same way.

“I don’t get it. Can you do it for me?”
“I cannot, but I can help you figure it out.”

A big part of my teaching style is keeping my students engaged. I want my students to not just go through the motions. I want them to remember why they learned it, and for that, they have to do it themselves.
In the summer of 2019, during one of the weeks of the robotics course, I had a student who would shut down the moment they ran into a problem. They were showering me with questions every couple of minutes that first day. Most of the exchanges went something like this:

“My robot’s not working, can you fix it?”
“I cannot, but I can help you figure it out.”
“But can’t you just fix it for me?”
“I cannot, because it’s not my robot. You built it, so you have to show me what’s wrong.”
“OK, well this part…”

I would have them walk me through their robot, and in the process they would realize where the missing piece would be. At the end of the first day, I knew that robot inside and out.
The second day, they asked half as many questions as the first.
The third day, they asked half as many as the day before.
The fourth day, they didn’t ask any questions about the robot, so at the end of class I asked them why.

“So why do you think you had to ask me so many questions the first day?”
“Um… Because if I think I don’t know it, I’m afraid I’ll mess it up.”
“Ok. What about now?”
“Now I know I know it. You helped me know that I know it.”

These are the moments where I am proud to be an instructor.