As the result of a tweet by Milton Ramirez, a/k/a @tonnet, I visited a blog post by Scott McLeod, a/k/a @mcleod, entitled Geometry homework: Is this cheating?. It really resonated with me because it discusses a piece of the symptoms I have been trying to find a cure for in classrooms today.
In the post, the author discusses a dilemma in which he found himself, where his daughter was working on Geometry homework and trying to decide whether using help from the internet was to be considered cheating.
My response to this was “if she learned from it, isn’t that the objective?”
I am so tired of education being all about how well students can comply, rather than how well they have mastered the content. I am so tired of teachers who try to keep their students from using the tools at hand to facilitate their own learning. I am so tired of traditions that keep us standing in front of a classroom or sitting behind a desk. I am sick of looking at my own children’s gradebooks and seeing that their grades were hurt by the fact that they didn’t turn in a roll of paper towels or didn’t turn in a progress report with my valuable signature.
I join my students and children in their lament over meaningless assignments and purposeless routines in their classrooms.
The Geometry assignment in question should have included a mandate that students find their own answers on the internet or by asking someone else. The student who finds the answer to a question on the internet should be guided to understand what to do with that information. Teaching a student how not to simply copy an answer but to use it instead to figure out how to work the problem will not only help them immediately, it will assist them in their learning throughout their lives.
I, myself, learned how valuable having the answers can be when I was in college. I took a Physics class and struggled with it. I couldn’t ever seem to “get it” and I finally dropped the class. I knew that I would take it the next semester, so I routinely went to the homework binder that the teacher would leave in the computer lab to look at the answers to the homework, even after I dropped the class. The next semester, I got an A in Physics. Did I cheat? I don’t believe I did, because the homework taught me how to solve the problems and it also taught me the one little piece of the course that I had apparently missed the first time, which shed light on the rest for me.
Of course, this college experience was different from a student’s experience in high school. I was graded only on my performance on summative tests, which I had no way of examining ahead of time. Most students in today’s high schools are graded on their formative work, as well.
Assessing a student’s mastery of a subject should be our only concern.
Sometimes we get so lost in the routines and the traditions that we never take a step back and ask ourselves “what is the point of this assignment?”
The process of learning how to learn is far more valuable than teaching a student how to comply.