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Do They Know what you Think They Know?

We often take for granted that our students know what it means to study, know how to take notes, and know how to organize their thoughts.  But how often is that actually the case?

Students are expected to know a lot of things that they haven’t been taught.  Maybe they should have been taught them, but ask your students the important questions,  and you’ll be surprised to find out what they don’t know.

I was working with a girl last week on balancing chemical equations.  She was easily able to do some simple balancing, but struggled when the numbers became more complex.  I tried to understand why this was, as she seemed to know what to do some of the time, but not others.  As she became more frustrated, I asked her to step back and explain her process to me.  Did she know why she was choosing the numbers she was?  Did she know why we look at water sometimes as H2O, but other times as H-OH?

Obviously she didn’t.  She was following an algorithm that she had been taught without completely synthesizing the reason behind it.

I went over the idea of the law of conservation of mass with her, and the idea that a chemical equation describes a chemical change (including exactly what a chemical change was).  I explained that sometimes water breaks apart into it’s elements, but sometimes it pulls apart into hydrogen (with acids) and hydroxide (with bases).  I helped her to look at the bigger picture, and put the problems into context.

Can you guess what happened?  She was able to balance the more complex equations a bit more easily, and even when she had difficulty, she had a plan and a way to go back and analzye her work so that she can succeed.

Working with children isn’t just about giving them information.  It’s about helping them learn what to do with the information, and giving them the tools so that they can trust themselves.

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