Thursday, September 10, 2009


In my Problem-Solving class I like to put up common riddles and conundrums on the slides. I use these to illustrate different kinds of problems and (hopefully) encourage reflection on the students' own problem-solving approach (there are at least two: the Helicopter approach and the Path-Finder approach, but this for another day).

Some of the problems I put up have been floating around the Web for a few years, so it's inevitable that some students would already know the solution. In order to not 'spoil' the experience of those students who have not yet come across the problem, I then usually tell students already in-the-know to keep quiet.

Hold your horses. Let your friends try. Snicker all you want, but let them go through the experience themselves.

But guess what? Of the students who already know the answer, more than half of them simply HAVE to reveal it to their friends barely 7.5 seconds after the (obviously familiar) problem is shown. These students cannot resist letting their friends know that they know the answer.

That's us, isn't it? We'll break explicit rules to prove we know something. Especially if there's a chance someone else will say they know it too. And if they say it first, where's the fun/credit for us?

So here's a small tip if you want to get your listeners to speak up especially in those less-than-optimal learning times: Appeal to their pride of knowedge. Let them show they know. Best of all, make it look like the knowers are in a clearly better position than the non-knowers.

This keeps them snug and, most importantly, eager to know what comes next. I'm sure all presenters could live with that.

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