Friday, September 16, 2011

Picture Perfect

Several years ago when I was a student in one of my education classes at the University of Georgia, the instructor asked us what should have been a fairly simple question for a group of teachers: “How do you know when learning has taken place?” I don’t remember my response, but I do remember that the question really brought me up short because it was not asking how do you know when the student has mastered a particular knowledge or skill, but how do you know when they have learned something? Well it is a little late, but I received a great answer today: Learning has taken place when the student requests that their picture be taken with their project. We have a flaring project in which students make an assembly of 1/4”, 3/8”, 1/2”, and 5/8” copper all connected together by flare fittings. After it is done, it is tested for leaks with 100 psig of nitrogen and soap bubbles. After completing their project, one student wanted a picture. Then they requested I take a picture of them holding the project. The student’s broad smile gave me the answer to the question posed to me many years ago. Learning has taken place when the student can enjoy the pride of achievement with tangible proof of their accomplishment. In technical education we have a huge advantage of being able to actually produce. The students’ pride is not based on my judgment, it is based on holding something they made that they could not make yesterday. Some people consider trade skills and knowledge as inferior to pursuits that are purely academic. However, I feel that a strong case can be made that technical skills are actually a higher form of learning because the students must actually perform. Reality is the harshest judge of all – either it works or it doesn’t. Our students must not only understand the theory, they must also apply it and pass the performance test. So if I had to list a learning sequence today, it would be: you study, you struggle, you sweat, you smile! 

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