In high school, I was a pretty good student. I participated in extracurricular activities, and volunteered, while keeping my grades up, and doing my homework on time, or well in advance. When my classmates would ask me if they could copy my answers off of assignments, naturally I would refuse. I put time and effort into my homework. I wasn’t going to just give it away. Yes, I was that kid.
Now, as a TA, I’m no different. No matter how sneaky my students try to be, they don’t get ‘free’ answers out of me. I firmly believe giving away answers would be a disservice to them. In the “real” world, solutions aren’t always at our fingertips (well, maybe Google would disagree) and that is why I encourage them to think about how to arrive to the answer. Critical thinking is an essential soft skill, not only for their inner scientist, but themselves as a whole.
To help them think critically, I encourage my students to ask questions in class all the time. I like it when they bombard me with questions in person, because they have my undivided attention for five hours straight. But when they do, I like to poke their brains a little. For example, if they want to know why their solution turned cloudy, I’ll take a step back and ask them a series of related questions. Eventually we’d up back to their original query and voila, they would be able to answer it all on their own! Making them work for their answers has a number of benefits which include the following:
- Teaches students to break down their question into parts. Like I mentioned earlier, learning how to answer complex questions is an important skill.
- Boosts their self-confidence, because they knew the answer all along. They just needed a little help getting there.
- Gives me a chance to understand how much the class already knows about a concept or an experiment. It’s kind of like a heads-up for when I have to grade their reports.
- Realize that answers don’t grow on trees. (I love using that little saying :D)
Personally, seeing that look of “aha!” on their faces is enough for me to know that I did my job. It’s also another reason why I really enjoy being a TA.
Maybe in high school I should have made my classmates earn my answers to the homework. Or maybe they should have just done their homework on time.