Want to Facilitate Real Learning? Free Yourself From the 'Expert' Trap

Teachers don't have to be experts when they celebrate the thinking and inquiry coming from the students.

I have a secret.

I am no longer the most knowledgeable person in my classroom. I am not sure who owns that title, but more often than not when it comes to teaching Scratch, App Inventor—and soon game design and computer science principles— it is not me. I feel a bit guilty about this, but it is just not possible anymore.

Should I spend hours researching and testing everything I do before I feel I am ready to present it to the class? Some may say yes, but I would like those same people to tell me when I should find the time for that. Or a better question: if I have to work this hard, what are the students doing? Shouldn't they be doing the problem solving? Shouldn't they be part of the research?

I'm continuing to learn even though I am no longer a student. There is no one telling me what to do. As the lead technology teacher at Los Angeles' Foshay Tech Academy—a 150-student school-within-a-school at Foshay Learning Center, I have to figure it out for myself. That is now the philosophy I'm bringing into the classroom. I am teaching the students to do their own research, crowd-sourcing, and problem-solving, and not to fear good old-fashioned trial and error.

I want my classroom to be as real world as possible. It is not the place where I show off my knowledge. Rather it is where the students learn how to problem-solve and find solutions to their questions. The goal for my students is to be successful human beings—not for them to jump through my hoops.

Yes, this means sometimes my timelines get altered as the students try to figure things out. I often think that sometimes teachers end up giving students the answers because we are rushed to get through the material or prove to them that we know what we are doing. This may make things go faster but it does not help learning and does not create the experiences the students truly need in order to truly "learn" something.

I used to feel embarrassed or flustered if I could not answer my students' questions right away. However, now I don't let it bother me. The truth is that the field of technology and computer science is constantly changing as new software and tools are developed. I try to stay connected—I go to conferences. I meet with my advisory board. I read articles and ask questions from my tech geek husband. However, there is no way to be well-versed in it all.

My confidence in inquiry grew this past year when I started teaching Exploring Computer Science, which stresses inquiry as one of the three major components of teaching the curriculum. It is also stressed when I go to professional development sessions about developing critical thinking and using project based learning. I have found that now that I don't easily have the answers, I am much stronger at asking questions in order to get the students to think and begin to ask more questions on their own.

Maybe that is my secret.

Now, instead of feeling insecure when I don't know something, I celebrate the thinking and inquiry coming from the students. "Yes, that is a good question," I respond. "How can you find out the answer? Where would you look? What keywords would you use to research it? Have you asked other people in the room if they have found a solution?"

My students are learning to trust themselves to find the answers. They know that questions are great and the solutions are there for them to figure out on their own. And that is what I call successful learning.

Click here to add asking young people how they'd change education to your GOOD "to-do" list.

Student in computer lab image via Shutterstock

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