Your Notes Are Wrong!

One of the best ways to teach, I have discovered, is to be wrong. Say something wrong, show something wrong, do something wrong – such as have some errors in a hand-out, and savvy students will call you out. “Hey, I’m confused. This map is wrong, I think.” Years ago I made some maps with some deliberate errors. Today, the maps are even more wrong because some countries have been born, like the Republic of South Sudan.

In a recent class, students discovered I was missing borders for South Sudan, Eritrea, and a couple of the Turkestan countries on an outline map. “I had no idea what I was looking at because the lines were missing. How am I supposed to study for a map quiz when the country borders are missing???” “You have these places on your Feature List but when I go to look at your map I can’t find them! Are you going to be testing us on those countries?”

“Awesome!” I exclaim. “That’s great! You’ve learned some things, then, right?”

The looks I get back are wedged somewhere between irritation, confusion, and serendipity. “Huh?”

“Look; I gave you an assignment, find the places on the Feature List, know where they are, and I’m going to quiz you on them. Now, one place I ask you to locate is Eritrea. You are absolutely correct. I do not have the political boundary for Eritrea on the map. What did you do?”

“I had to get online and look at maps someone did right! Then, I drew the line in on your map, which is wrong!”

“Where is Eritrea?”

The student shuffles papers on the desk and pulls out the practice map. “It’s right there!”

“Yay! I win! By me being wrong, you just learned the location of Eritrea. And, I’ll bet you’ll never forget where Eritrea is located for the rest of your life, until senile dementia sets in. And, because of your age and the affect which this lesson has had upon you, chances are when senile dementia does set in, you’ll be blabbering about Eritrea and no one will know what your talking about.”

Students are little amused by the learning lesson of finding errors in materials. However, rather than formalizing the errors on the map as a specific exercise, I have continued to leave the errors on the maps and let students figure them out on their own. I suspect the value of letting them discover the errors on their own is far more valuable than give them a map and say “the map has errors; see if you can find them.”

The current of students are adults, and their reaction I find somewhat troubling. Were my students straight from high school I might be able to bear their reaction better. In fact, my students I’ve had right from high school usually have “ah hah” moments, react with pleasure they caught an error in my maps and were able to remedy the error on their own.

To my adults students who gripe, I ask how they raise their children. “Are you really going to raise your children so that you have to do everything for them? Or, are you going to try to help them prepare for the unknown, to be able to react and be flexible to changing conditions? I hope the latter. Please tell me the latter.”

So, to my readers involved in Education, I say, make mistakes. Make deliberate mistakes. Make some mistakes and don’t tell your students and see what happens.

Then, have them design their own exams. “Here is your homework. I want each of you to study the material. Then, for our next exam, I will use questions you design. Create 10 multiple choice questions with answers. Create 5 true-false. Create 5 fill-in-the-blank. Then, I want one essay question. All of these must include appropriate answers. And, make these good questions, think about what you want to test for, what is important, what you think important concepts or topics need to be known.”

When the students become the educator, the appreciation for education magnifies.

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