Of Note: Unsettling Certainty
Inviting Uncertainty into the Classroom by Ronald A. Baghetto
Education Leadership, October 2017
A great deal of effort goes into planning classroom activities for students so that lessons are well-organized. We are careful to clearly define problems for students to solve, plan how they will solve them, and know the outcomes we are seeking. While this may be the mark of a good lesson, the limitation to this approach is that it doesn’t give students experience in grappling with uncertainty. In many problems students will confront in their work and life there is an element of uncertainty. To prepare for this inevitability, students need opportunities to engage with the messiness of the unknowns of a challenge in a supportive classroom environment. While the process will differ somewhat depending on the discipline, teachers can assign open-ended problems that encourage students to come up with alternate solutions or to find multiple approaches to solving a problem. A school-wide initiative in providing practice with uncertainty can build to include “legacy projects” that respond to complicated, ongoing challenges facing the school or community such as providing services for refugees or feeding the homeless. Legacy problems can be passed on to different groups of students as they progress through the school. The key to preparing students to deal with uncertainty is to scaffold their engagement by beginning with small problems of uncertainty as part of the curriculum and building to deal with large projects that incorporate complex challenges that respond to community needs.