Lou Zulli and I got together recently to talk teaching and computer science education recently. One of the things we talked about was common points from the teachers we know and from those I have been interviewing lately on my blog. A key point is that the best teachers are not afraid to admit that they don’t know everything. Students come to them with ideas for projects that the teacher has little to no idea how to accomplish. Rather than say “no” they say “go ahead” and they help the student figure it out. Sometimes they learn together. Sometimes the teacher points students in a direction and gets out of the way. Regardless the teacher is not afraid that the student will know something they don’t know.
These days there is so much going on in computing that no one can know it all. If a teacher limits what their students learn to just what the teacher knows the students are being too limited. Students are naturally curious and creative. There are times when I worry that we can stifle that curiosity and creativity in the name of keeping control. Fear can be a limiting factor. We worry that the student will get stuck on soothing we can’t help them with. What will that do to our credibility? Will the student get too frustrated and turned off to computing? What other bad things will happen because we don’t have all the answers?
Fortunately most of these fears are over rated. First off most of our students don’t expect us to know it all. They have unfairly low expectations of their teachers even when it comes to computing. Chances are that for all we admit to not knowing most students will be impressed by what we do know.
Students also often have a much higher tolerance for frustration than we give them credit for. At least when the project interests them. If they are picking their own projects they are highly likely to keep going long past where they would go for a teacher assigned project. A teacher can help by finding new resources (students are often poor at searching the Internet or documentation) and by helping a student to understand what they do find. One can also help a student understand that what they are doing is hard and that they are making progress.
Success is learning not always completion of a project. With a little help and encouragement students will often amaze you with what they can learn and what they can do with what they learn.