Questions and Answers
“Never ask a question you don’t know the answer to.” This is an old saw among trial lawyers that I learned growing up watching courtroom dramas on TV. For some reason it’s stuck with me my whole life, but it’s not advice I follow. As a teacher I ask these kinds of questions all the time.
I often ask math questions in class I don’t know the answer to. Sometimes it’s because a student’s curiosity has sparked my own, and I want to share that excitement with others. Sometimes it’s to model not knowing. It’s important for students to become comfortable operating in the space of not knowing, because that’s where mathematicians live.
And every assessment, every quiz, every test I give asks a question I don’t know the answer to: “Do you understand this?” Or, perhaps more to the point, “Did I teach this successfully?” I usually have a feeling about the answer, but I never really know. That’s why I have to ask.
In my end-of-year surveys I asked students a lot of questions I didn’t know the answer to. Did you feel productive in math this year? Do you feel like you learned as much as you would have in a normal math class? Do you feel prepared for next year? I wasn’t sure what I would hear. But I had to ask. That’s what teachers do.