My students are working on a project right now, where they have to digitize three-dimensional objects by specifying points in an x,y,z format. They then have to describe quads which have four points.
This is really good for the students. It's part of our unit on digitizing data, so it's good for them to understand how real-life objects get mapped into and modeled by the computer. But even better, it's good for them to practice spacial skills. Spacial skills are the one area (of math) where girls really do fall behind boys in brain development, so practicing is good for their brains. Yay for neurogenesis!
Not surprisingly, many of them find this task difficult. The task is unlike most they've performed before, so understanding it is a challenge. Then keeping the x, y, and z dimensions straight is a challenge. Keeping track of the points is a challenge, especially for the ones with messy handwriting and other organizational challenges. And the class has been battered by swine flu and other absences; even with me posting video of the classes they miss, it isn't the same as being there.
However, I had two conversations last week that made me laugh - and made me wonder how often students psych themselves out about tasks they shouldn't be so worried about. I explained the task to two students who had been absent and were confused. I had them practice creating points and quads so I would be sure they understood what to do. The first one looked at me and said, "That's ALL?" She'd expected it to be so much harder. I think it was harder when I first introduced it a couple of weeks ago, but even with the absence, her brain is more ready now.
The second conversation was more troublesome. It was with a smart student who is insecure about her knowledge and occasionally very disorganized. I went through the material and she showed me she could do the task. We talked for a couple of minutes about the assignment. Then she said, "but I still don't get it." I asked what she didn't get, and she described general confusion with the task.
I asked, "do you know how to figure out a point like you did a couple of minutes ago?"
"Do you understand how to make a quad out of four points like you did a couple of minutes ago?"
"That's it. That's all there is to the assignment. Get the points, make the quads, and type it into the computer."
"But I'm confused!"
At that point the light bulb went on. So I looked at her and said, "No, you're not. You think this is supposed to be hard. So you're worried that you don't understand it because it doesn't seem as hard as you think it's supposed to be. Stop worrying and get to work."