Thursday, February 27, 2020

A Quick Exercise to Help Break Down Barriers to Learning (and Seeing)!

I love youth activities because they start out so spirited, often with a riddle, a challenge, or a song.

Recently, I realized that my some of the difficulties that students face is that they can easily avoid the obvious.  That's because many students often lack confidence that they actually belong in law school, seeing themselves as imposters.  

In working with children, youth leaders understand that the sense of inadequacy is omnipresent, especially with middle schoolers.  So, in order to help build community and break down barriers to learning, leaders often start youth meetings with some adventurous fun.  Call it team building if you want.

As academic support professionals, perhaps it might be helpful for us, likewise, to kick off workshops and classes with an "ice-breaker" of sorts because, let's face it, law school can share many of the insecurities of teenage life. So, below, is an exercise that might help your students relate to each other, laugh a bit, and learn perhaps even a little too.  

As background, this week, most of my students missed a relatively easy essay issue dealing with consideration, even though it was right under their noses.  That's because we really do often believe that we aren't smart enough to solve the problem or that they must be tricking us.  But, sometimes the answer is right in front of us, if we just take the time to ponder it a bit.  Nevertheless, we are often in a rush, because of time pressures, to start working on the problem at hand before we even understand the problem at hand.

With that background in mind, let your students know that you'd like to take a breather, and oh, let's say, work on a math problem for a moment.  Not one that is too difficult, mind you.  Just one from back from the days when you were taking algebra.

Then, scribble on the board: "Find x."  Follow that with the equation: y = 2x/3 + 25.  Then let them have at it.  Oh, and make sure that they know that they are free to work in groups, after all, its a math problem!  

At this point, a few engineers and scientists will be plugging away but most students will be frantically trying to figure out: "How do we solve for x?"

But note the "call" of the question.  It's not to "solve" for x but rather to "find" x.  And, just like that, one of your students will scream out I've got it!  I've found x!  That's when you ask the student to come to the board, with a marker in hand, and explain what they came up with.  Watch with amazement as the student circles on the board where x is!

Back to my essay problem involving consideration.  Based on a past bar exam essay, the problem involved a person who immediately risked her life to save a dog from a burning house.  After the dog was rescued, a conversation ensued between the rescuer and the dog's owner with the owner learning that the rescuer wanted to go to paramedic school but couldn't afford it (no contract yet!).  That's when things got exciting.  The owner promised that she would pay for paramedic schooling because she wanted to "compensate" the rescuer for his heroism in rescuing her dog.  Well, as things go on bar exam problems, the owner didn't pay and the rescuer, who was denied admission to the paramedic school, pursued a different line of education.  

Most students explored lots of issues, including offer, acceptance, statute of frauds, mistake, conditions, anticipatory repudiation, and you name it.  But, the key was in writing the issue:  "The issue is whether the rescuer has any contract claims when the owner promised to pay for paramedic school to compensate the rescuer for a past act of heroism."  In a nutshell, there was an issue concerning whether there was consideration based on the pre-existing duty rule and there was an issue concerning whether, assuming no consideration, whether the promise could be enforced under the material benefit rule and/or promissory estoppel.  That was it.  Once the students saw the answer, they then saw the facts that triggered that answer, and it all came down to writing the issue statement.  

That's when I brought out the math problem below.  Using this challenge, students were reminded that it's important to ask the right questions in order to get the right answers.  And, in order to ask the right questions, we have to take time, before we write, to think.  It was one of the most memorable learning exercises of all for my students because they all knew the rules of consideration and promissory estoppel but in their haste to solve the problem...they missed the problem.  Love to have your thoughts on how the "Find x" exercise goes with your students!  (Scott Johns)

Find x

Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink


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