How to Not Be a Dummy

Don't be a dummy

I remember being six or seven years old when my older brother asked me a question, and after only using a modicum of consideration, responded with “I don’t know.”  He said to think about it, and after responding with another, “I don’t know,” he furrowed his eyebrows and pursed his lips into the “don’t be a dope” look that he regularly gave his little brother and explained, “Look, ‘I don’t know’ isn’t an acceptable answer. First off, before you ask your teacher a question, you should at least have a guess as to what the answer might be – a hypothesis.  Better yet, if it’s something you can look up yourself, that allows you to ask a more specific and intelligent question.  When you grow up and get a job, if your boss asks you a question, you can’t just say ‘I don’t know’ and think the conversation is over.  At the very least, say ‘I don’t know the answer to that, but let me find out for you.'”

One lesson I try to relay to my students early on is that they will often come across things they don’t know, which is a good thing.  It means they’re expanding their exposure to material that is beyond their current knowledge base.  As a middle schooler, I would read Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and every few pages, come across a word I didn’t know.  One word, “sardonic,” kept popping up and I got tired of not knowing what it meant exactly.  So I stuck a post-it on the inside of the front cover and wrote “sardonic” down along with other unfamiliar words as I encountered.  I would then find a time later to look them up all at once (“sardonic” means “sarcastic or cynically mocking” and this was when I still had to go get the dictionary off the bookshelf at home!).  However, this simple yet critical initiative to take the time to self-explore and look up the answer is a habit that may need to be introduced, nurtured and reinforced with young learners.

What I currently don’t know  My tech reading in the last few days has been about portable usb battery packs. There are times when I’m traveling or teaching all day, on the go from early morning until late evening without a chance to charge my phone. Sometimes I just forget to plug in and find myself wishing I had something in my bag for a quick charge.

I’ve considered looking at usb battery packs in the past, but haven’t found this minor annoyance worth investing the time to properly researching which battery pack best suits my needs. However, my recent interest in purchasing a GoPro and the resulting consideration of how to power it beyond 1-2hrs at a time has led me to spend the last few days reading reviews and looking at portable usb chargers.

When comparing specs, it’s easy to just say, “Oh, well more must be better,” but I started getting annoyed with myself as I was reading reviews. Okay, so I know there are chargers with different volts, like 5V chargers and 12V chargers, but why does it specify a 1.0 amp port and a 2.1 amp port?  Which port would I use for which device?  Next thing I’m asking myself is What exactly are volts and amps? Something I often do with my students is have them verbalize what I’ve just explained or demonstrated, so they can synthesize the information themselves and I can check for comprehension. From their explanation, I can appropriately gauge how to supplement, reinforce, or re-explain in another way the intended idea. When I check for my own comprehension, I’ll turn the tables and give myself a mini pop quiz – “What is…” or “Explain why <topic> is important.” Can I clearly and succinctly explain the inserted question? If not, then I look it up.

So in the same spirit of conveying to my students the importance of looking up the answer, I looked up what volts, amps, and ohms were, but beyond just a definition, one we might memorize in a high school physics class and regurgitate on a chapter test. My main interest was how the terms relate to one another and how we use this information to understand its application, e.g. this battery I’m considering purchasing.

A great real world example can be found in this chart below comparing computer usbs, iPhone, and iPad chargers:


What does this mean?  If you look at the Current column, you’ll see that a PC USB provides 0.5 amps, 1/2 the amount of current as the iPhone charger (1.0 amp). Therefore it would take twice twice as long to charge your iPhone.  Similarly, the PC USB provides 1/4 the amount of current as the iPad Charger, and would therefore take 4 times as long to charge your iPad (To read a more in depth explanation, click here for the full thread).  This all made sense, but still, what exactly are volts, amps, and ohms?

Keep looking – what did you find?  

This led to me watch the video below. Wow, YouTube is amazing. I appreciated learning how volts can be thought of as electric pressure or even springs between electrons (higher compression in the spring between the electrons = higher voltage), and how amps measures current, the the quantity/volume of electrons flowing through the circuit.

However, the real reason I’m taking the time to share this is to bookmark a really impressive example of how a lesson that can be abstract and convoluted was masterfully transformed it into a very accessible and practical explanation. A clear takeaway summarizes the separate pieces of information, (Ohm’s law is a concept or principle, not an equation), and the material is related to ideas that the learner already knows (pressure, springs, electrons are like negative people and create tension).  I am really intrigued with the idea of how flipping the classroom can create resources for students that can be introduced before coming to class, and reviewed after class. Watching the “animation” while listening to the lecture shows the power of concurrently highlighting key phrases and concepts both visually and aurally.  For me, this really magnifies the information feedback loop between the teacher and learner. What a great example!


Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this is the reminder of how looking up the answer to one question often leads to reading and learning more about other things along the way, and nurturing that curiosity is a habit of thought we want to instill in our students and ourselves. 

What are some other essential learning habits we want to instill in our students?  How else can we inspire these habits of curiosity and self-enrichment? Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below!

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You can also send me a message via the contact page, or message me on your social media platform of choice. Let me know if you found this helpful, along with any additional questions you might have – thanks for reading!

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