Helping Students Make Mistakes

A few years ago, I picked up a handful of dry erase boards and colored markers at the dollar store. I use these for easy, impromptu group activities. For example, when discussing Fearon’s 1993 Rationalist Theories of War paper, I have the students get into groups and draw out the bargaining range and other key parts of the theory.dry erase

When introducing game trees, the dry erase boards are perfect canvases for the students to work through different scenarios and try to develop their own. Using the dry erase boards allow the students to feel comfortable making mistakes, as they are easily erased.

When circulating between the groups, it is easier to see the progress when the group task – creating something on the dry erase board – is visible. You can easily create some inter-group competition, having groups write answers or solutions on their boards and revealing them all at once. As a tool, it provides elements of tactile and visual learning to material that is often conceptual or abstract. The ability to make mistakes and start all over gives students space to try out different solutions.  It seems to enhance collaboration, as students pass around the board and each can work out different parts of the problem.  I find it’s a nice departure from traditional group work.