Tonight’s first debate was over whether schools should be teaching anything that can be Googled. This was an excellent debate topic as it is very relevant to the frustrations I have as a teacher in my own classroom. Process to me needs to be the main focus in the ways teachers are teaching, however, it would be callous to assume that on the other hand students shouldn’t be required to memorize basic facts that support higher levels of thinking and computation.
One thing the debate topic doesn’t address is the fact that nearly everything taught in the classroom, from basic skills to specific facts on a specialized topic, is accessible in some form through Google. Basic skills need to be taught, learned, and memorized in order for a child to then later work upon this base to develop specialized skills that are specific to their interests and set goals.
In our current education model, teachers have the ability to offer a flipped classroom where students can access and learn the basic content off of a website, and even practice the skill using a Google searched, or teacher recommended online app. The only issue, as was pointed out in the debate is that this ideal model ignores the social inequity that exists in our society. Personally I have seen this model work very well for students who have 1) access to online tech at home, 2) Have consistent support and routines at home that support extended learning outside the classroom, 3) Are at a level of Bloom’s taxonomy where purposeful practice and study is diligent and is being achieved independent of a guide or mentor overseeing this progress. Unfortunately, the majority of students in my classroom do not necessarily have the support, or the dedication to push themselves to learn and practice simply through technology.
Technology, as we argued last week, is simply a tool, that when used effectively (both in and out of the classroom) can pay dividends towards motivation, memorization, and application of any particular skill, whether it be the multiplication table, Japanese, grammar, etc. This isn’t to say that it is always the ideal means of teaching however, but can be a lead or supplemental to the understanding of any given topic.
Curriculums are moving away from the memorization of facts, and are pushing for experiential and hands-on ways of applying basic skills towards higher level thinking processes. This provides students with the opportunity to put these basic skills, learned both through online sources and in the classroom, through a variety of different applications, moving towards increasingly challenging and more abstract (outside of the initial frame of reference to which it was taught/learned) applications.
So, let’s remind ourselves as teachers that first of all, students need to learn how to use the tools effectively to maximize their learning, and to realize that Google is not the end all of knowledge: in order to develop and master any particular skill, we must apply the skill in a variety of situations to help us refine the skill to use it most effectively. Do we need to do this all the time? No. There are many random facts, such as knowledge of all state capitals or how to fix a broken PS3 that are one time uses which don’t offer much in the way of a starting point for further exploration. However, with a skill based question in mind, Google serves as a jumping off point to take and refine ideas to improve one’s own skill set. Take cooking for example. When I need to find a killer recipe, I head over to seriouseats, as through researching different sites, I find their writing and recipes consistently motivating, challenging and, well, tasty! This interest though, while it certainly started through the use of seriouseats moved me into ordering cookbooks, talking to and cooking meals with others, getting feedback from friends and family, etc. Through using Google as a means of acquiring skill and culinary information, I have build up a level of skill that has been refined through ongoing practical application and real world feedback.
Anders Ericsson was the scientist behind Malcom Gladwell’s popularization of the fact that it simply takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, whether it be composition, to basketball. Giving students easy access to technology that will allow them to better research and practice any given chosen skill is then very beneficial for motivation in working towards achieving these 10,000 hours.
While driving home from the lake this weekend I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast about this very same topic, and it turns out, it isn’t simply the 10,000 hours that makes a master. Rather it is the deliberate practice of a skill, or rather the meta-cognitive understanding of how the skill is put together that matters most, paired with a mentor who is consistently ensuring that the deliberate practice is maintained and is working toward meeting the ongoing SMART goals being set.
I enjoyed listening to this as it kept me from falling asleep at the wheel, and that it again cements the idea that technology is a very effective tool when used appropriately. Like anything, if the tool and the process is not being used effectively, growth will not occur. Simply going out and running at a slow rate for a long period of time will not push the body to create the changes that will enable you to become a better, faster runner. Instead, doing the research into what the most effective means of running for the specific goal you have in mind, paired with a way of tracking and monitoring growth will enable your body to make the necessary adaptations through stress.
Google is amazing, but it isn’t the end of the road.