April 9, 2012 AT 11:18 am

ASK AN EDUCATOR! “How do you teach a subject that you are not an “expert” in?”

Chris asks:

How can you teach in an area that you are not an expert in? For instance, if you have high school students who are interested in programming this semester, but don’t know everything about it. If you wait until you gain the expertise, those students might be in college studying English by then.

This is an awesome question! And it turns out to be one of the things that makes teaching so much fun. Trust me, very few teachers know EVERYTHING about their subject. One of the most important lessons I have learned over my teaching career is that students are people too, just with more attitude. If you try to teach a subject, and come across like you don’t know what you are talking about, they will take advantage of you and the experience becomes a mess. Instead you can try letting the kids know that you are learning the material as well. This allows you to spin your lack of knowledge into an opportunity for the students to help you out. Most of the problems in the classroom stem from the students wanting attention and having the desire to be engaged in the lesson. By giving them responsibility, say in the form of teaching a short lesson to the class, not only do you learn as well, but the kids get a sense of ownership over the lesson and will respect you for it.

With regards to your programming example. You can try assigning different programming languages to small groups of students (no more then 2 per group). Their task is to educate themselves enough to produce a small example program, then present their language to the class and distribute a worksheet that instructs the class to complete the same example program. The neat thing about students is their desire to impress you and their peers. If you can be successful at taking that desire and directing it toward them educating the class, you will have officially rocked as a teacher.

Good luck. Learning is fun!

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“Ask an Educator” questions are answered by Adam Kemp, a high school teacher who has been teaching courses in Energy Systems, Systems Engineering, Robotics and Prototyping since 2005.

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