Sunday, March 20, 2011

Are Your Kids Using Google?

Here's an old fable that I think my friend Paul once told me:

A dad took his young son to the street and said, "Son, I am going to give you a task. You have to do everything that you can in order to get it done. OK?" The son nodded. The dad then pointed at a giant block of stone in the middle of the road and said, "Move that out of the way." The son went over and tried pushing the rock with all his might, but the rock wouldn't budge. He tried until sweat broke out on his forehead, but to no avail. Finally, he turned to his dad and said, "I can't do it, Dad. It's not possible!" And his dad replied, "Why didn't you ask for my help? Until you have asked for help from others, you haven't tried everything within your power to get it done." Together, they were able to move the rock to the side of the road.

The other day while I was telling my Honors Geometry class to go home and finish a non-integer circumcenter problem, I said, "When you get stuck trying to find the intersection of two lines using algebra, google how to do it! Look it up on the internet." I was only half-serious. I knew that the next day they'd more or less all come back and act all helpless.

But, to my surprise, the next day, 2 kids came back with solutions! They had googled it! I was happy (but not as happy as I would have been, had more kids decided to follow my suggestion to be resourceful), and I publicly acknowledged their efforts in class. I wanted the other kids to see that it's a GOOD thing that those kids took the initiative to look up how to do something on the internet. It got me thinking: Why do I not have the same expectations for all of my students? Surely if I start having those expectations all the time, they'd rise to the occasion -- in the same way that they bring calculators, notebooks, and pencils to class because it's expected -- and it would also help to shift us away from the teacher-being-the-sole-knowledge-dispenser paradigm.

In the future, I think that everytime I need to review some old rote skill (such as fractional arithmetic), I am going to first ask the kids to go home and to look it up. Because they need to be practicing being resourceful!!


  1. such an important task--my students in college are SO unresourceful i often feel frustrated. they waste class time asking inane questions that are answered on the syllabus or in the assignment sheets i pass out (that they don't read). they email me to ask questions about how to do things in MS Word...they email ME rather than look up the number for the on-campus IT department. I can't bear it! these are good skills you are teaching.

  2. Part of the problem, at least with my kids, is they think it's cheating. And often their teachers have set up expectations in that way. For some reason its ok to use the social studies textbook but google is out of the question. And don't even get me started on the teacher-as-sole-arbiter-of-knowledge issue.

  3. I just think it's kind of funny that modern education experts say that we shouldn't be asking kids to memorize things that they can just as easily look up on the web -- I agree, but I think that maybe those same experts should be reminding our kids that they should be looking things up on the web!! The web isn't just for when you are trying to find shortcuts for an English assignment. You can actually learn stuff, imagine that!

  4. @Katy and oh Katy, I sympathize!! In college, my computer science professor used to always hop onto the class newsgroup, scan through the questions, pick the stupidest questions and type as response: RTFM. In tech, that means, "Read the f* manuel [before you ask questions]." haha. So true! He wasn't very nurturing, but tough love creates better adults. Maybe you can try turning your students away and making a concrete suggestion for what they should do to find their own solution!