Ever feel like you’re in the wrong place? Part 1: The Questions

How about this for a journal prompt?

This is not a good feeling, is it?  You feel everyone is looking at you, and not in a good way.  You are self-conscious wondering if everyone knows how awkward you feel, wondering if they know that you don’t know.  Everyone else knew what to do before they arrived.  They all got “the memo” telling them who, what, where, when, and how while yours got lost in the mail.  You just know that they are all judging you, whispering about you and how out of place you look.  Do you spend the entire time worried and uncomfortable?

I’ve been thinking about Quantum Progress’s class that I observed last Friday (1/7/11).  As a disposition check, he asked his learners to rate their thoughts on solving this problem:

A student, running at a top speed of 6 mph, is trying to catch a school bus 10m away that starts to accelerate at 1 m/s^2.  Will the student catch the bus?  Can you solve this problem? Don’t solve it; tell me how you feel about your ability to solve it.  Tell me using the following scale:

1 – I have no idea how to even start
2 – I can start but I have lots of questions
3 – I can do it but I might have a couple of questions
4 – I am all over this.

Learners leveled themselves and then reported a table average for their team.* Teams reported 2.67, 3, and 2.85.  I cannot capture, in words, all of what I witnessed.  This leader of learning communicated important messages to his learners while he collected these averages.  His tone and body language communicated much thought and concern as he asked

“This might be a lack of confidence instead of a lack of ability, don’t you think?” 

GREAT question!  To me, his response conveyed his surprise at their answers, and his belief that they had the ability and might be underestimating their understanding.  He questioned them to the realization that, while difficult, they had the skills and reasoning to solve the problem.  He conveyed his confidence in them and coached them to have more confidence in themselves.  (You can read about the impact of his reaction in the learners’ responses to the 20-minute pulse check.  I observed the learners noted in the “Other class’s responses.”)

I’m wondering if the learners’ lack of confidence is about physics, math, programming,  problem-solving, or something else.  It causes me to think about my learners. 

I am inspired to ask these important questions for my learners’ next journal. 

  • Can you share a story of when you felt like this? How did you feel?  What worried you? What were you thinking? 
  • Do you ever feel like you are in the wrong place in your understanding and learning?  Will you describe when you felt like you were in the wrong place in our class and why?  What can you or should you do to make it better?
  • Who have you identified to be in the wrong place?  Why?  Is it possible, just possible, that you have it backwards?  Continue your writing by analyzing who is in the wrong place from another perspective. What do you think?


*This just screams for a poll, but the seemingly off the cuff poll might have interrupted the flow of the discussion. This a reason to have a TI-Nspire Navigator, but that is a different conversation.
Image obtained and posted with permission from  http://www.jazzbc.com/Home_Page.html.


  1. Thanks for the suggestion about the poll—you’re right. I need to have you show me how awesome the navigators are. I feel like we are pulled in three different directions with technology—laptops, smartphones and calculators, and still don’t know which way to go. Should/must we choose?

    More importantly, I love your journal problems. Don’t know if I said it, but the “identify with a photo of an athlete” was one of the most ingenious ways I’ve ever seen of getting students to articulate their inner feelings about the subject.

    Finally, I’m constantly perplexed about why, our students, who I would rank in the top 1% of learners everywhere of science and mathematics, insist on seeing themselves and their abilities in such a negative light? Is it that they are too wrapped up in idea that learning must be a competition? To used to just “getting it” and seeing moments of confusion and frustration as signs of their ignorance, when actually, it’s a sign they’re learning something worthwhile? Or something else?

    Most importantly, how do we change it?


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