May 23, 2013
The first time it was awkward. “Are we making the questions?” The students were not really sure what was the point of them creating the questions for a mock-practicum in the anatomy and physiology course. They got there eventually- and along the way they learned also about questions and questions- how hard it was to answer questions about minutia, and how important the wording of the questions were. I assigned them topics, so each student was responsible for their set of questions. They loosened up eventually, snapped pictures of the slides and the dissected sheep brain, laughed at how hard some of their own questions were, and if they paid attention, they did good at the real final. For the second time, they were ready and I heard some say “cool!” This time it was more sophisticated- they had hearts and kidneys and open fetal pigs, and they had to set up the microscopes with slides, and devise questions to go with them. The group moved around, they were checking their books, talking to each other, and sometimes even asking me questions. They may not know it, but I have such an admiration for this small group of women mastering not only the content of biology, but also its dynamics and its inner beauty.
After less than one hour, we had the practice stations set up. Dissected specimens had pins attached and labeled, slides were taped to microscopes, and each student had developed a set of questions for their assigned topic. Some went overboard, others made simpler questions, but they were all engaged, comparing notes, discussing the results, communicating. Thinking. Creating.
Yes, it is hard sometimes to be an educator. But there is this moment, when a student’s unfocused gaze suddenly sparks, and he or she says, OH, I got it now…and one can almost hear the wheels turning in their brains and the synapses firing. And THAT is priceless.
I have found that there are many occasions in the classroom when one can flip the instruction and empower students. The logistics is simple, just chunk the material or the task, and give it to individuals or small groups. Give them time to think and discuss. Be there for hints and clarification. Provide ample positive feedback. They may be suspicious in the beginning, but eventually they will embrace it. And at the end, this is the time when they come to life during class. They even forget that I am there.
And that is the sweetest thing of all!