If you can Google it…

The Anti-memorization Trend in Education

Have you heard this argument? It sounds something like this:

Kids will have the Internet in their pocket at all times the rest of their lives. If your student can Google the answer to a question, then you’re a bad teacher when you ask your kids to memorize this “Google-able” information or test them on it. Only test questions that CAN’T be Googled are worthwhile.

Mark Dawe, the OCR exam board chief executive, supported the idea of students using Google on their exams. He said this:

“Surely when they [students taking the exam] learn in the classroom, everyone uses Google if there is a question. It is more about understanding what results you’re seeing rather than keeping all of that knowledge in your head because that’s not how the modern world works.”

I fully understand the concern. When I went through school (in the 70’s and 80’s), teachers would throw a bunch of information at us, ask us to read some material in the textbook, and then test us on seemingly meaningless facts…and normally using a multiple guess style exam.

I also am a big fan of using technology with kids. I want my students to be skilled at research. I want them to be able to sift through searches on the Internet and choose reliable sources. I want my students to be computer literate. These are absolutely essential in the 21st century classroom.

BUT, I totally disagree with the “If you can Google it…” trend in education. I want my students to memorize things. I want them to know a ton of facts! I test my students on “Google-able” information all the time, and no, they aren’t allowed to use technology to find the answers.

My friend John Eick and I agreed to independently record our thoughts on this topic. Please take a few minutes to listen to John’s Podcast (player below), “Learning with John Eick,” where he discusses his views on the anti-memorization trend in education. Leave comments for each of us, won’t you?

My Logic

Fluid Work Flow If we humans have to Google everything, we can’t fluidly move through complex problems because we’re too busy searching for basic answers. Let’s say I have an issue getting my video editing software to work. I pull up a help website for FinalCut. I begin reading and realize that I don’t understand several terms on the website. What is a “transition?” I Google the word “transition.”  A few minutes later, I think I’ve got it. Oh great, what does “jump cut” mean? I Google it. You get the picture. It would take me forever to get through complex problems if I had to Google all the prerequisite knowledge.

Sounding Uneducated Have you ever met someone who doesn’t have basic knowledge on historical facts, names of states or countries, scientific facts, etc. Not very impressive. An American adult who doesn’t know that George Washington was the first president of the United States? Where is New York? Wait, let me Google it. Why doesn’t this lamp work? Hang on while I Google it. OH! I need to plug it into this wall hole thing. It’s not a wall hole thing; it’s called an electrical socket. Google it. Hey, anyone want to go dinosaur hunting after work? Again, you get the idea.

Mind Development I’m no brain research expert, but from what I know, memorization is good for the brain. When we exercise our brains, they develop and become more powerful. Sometimes, just the process, the act of memorizing is plain old good for us.

So the question to me is not, “Do we expect students to memorize things they can Google?” The real discussion should focus on, “What Google-able facts should we ask our students to memorize?”

Should our schools revert to the methods of 30 years ago, before the age of the Internet? Of course not. Should school be a place where kids solely memorize a bunch of random facts and then regurgitate them on tests? No way!

What types of things do I want my 5th graders to memorize?

  • Morphemes The more letter group meanings my students memorize, the easier they will be able to solve unknown words.
  • Math Facts and Formulas I want my students to commit 8 x 7 to memory. I don’t time my students on math facts, but I do want them to have the ability to answer math facts without having to Google them or spend 30 seconds figuring them out. How do we find the area of a rectangle? Hopefully my students have worked with the concept enough to truly understand the concept, but in the end, they need to know its length times width.
  • Important Historical Facts When was World War II? Who was the evil leader responsible for killing millions of innocent people during this period of history? Why is the date July 4, 1776 significant? Who did America defeat in the American Revolution?
  • Spelling I want my students to know how to spell most words that they use frequently. It’s perfectly normal to not know the spelling for a handful of words that we commonly use. But if someone has to Google the spelling of every-other word they write? Awful! Laborious. Uneducated.
  • Vocabulary Do we really want our students reading a book and Googling every tenth word? Is it ok if my kids don’t know the meaning of a quadrilateral by heart? Nope. How ridiculous would it be to have to pause a conversation or TV show every 30 seconds to Google the meaning of a word?
  • Scientific Facts What’s the difference between a hurricane and a tornado? What is sodium chloride? Why do you look like your parents?

So if all the above facts are easily Googled, what is the point of school? Shouldn’t we just let kids sit at home and teach themselves? If kids know that they have any sort of lesson readily available on YouTube and other Internet sources, is there a point in sending kids to school for 5 hours a day?

The answer to this thick question is an aside to the focus of this post, but in short, school must be more than a place to learn facts. A good teacher acts as a mentor, a guide, and designs learning experiences that are far more powerful than watching a video on YouTube. The best learning environments are those where rich two-way communication is common, both teacher-student and student-student. This is possible, but not common, in Internet educational situations.

Here’s another blog post arguing a similar stance.

It’s the day after I posted the above thoughts, and I keep thinking of more. Here are a couple of other reasons I think it’s important to help my students memorize as much as I possibly can.

Job Interviews Will you get hired if you need to Google something after being asked a question? No, I don’t mean an interviewer will ask factual questions in a job interview (although, that’s not too crazy of a thought), but will I be given the opportunity to Google part of the interviewer’s question because I don’t understand what they’re asking me?

Audience Listening Skills Do I have time to Google information or vocabulary if I’m listening to a speaker? Even if I have time, will it look rude? There are many situations in life where I am listening to someone speak, and to glean the most from their oration, I will need to have a LOT of things memorized. If I get stuck, it’s inconvenient to Google away my confusion. In fact, just today I was listening to a podcast, and my comprehension of the discussion was severely hampered by my lack of knowing of something “Google-able.” A British educator was talking about “QLA’s,” something I’m unfamiliar with. Could I pause the show and Google it? Of course, but it would be so much nicer if I already knew the meaning. And thus is life. The more we know without using Google, the smoother things go.

Using Microlectures and Quick Shares to Reach Students with Short Attention Spans

Most of my 5th graders have a hard time focusing on any sort of lecture for longer than about two minutes. With this in mind, I use microlectures to share important information with my class. Listen to episode 12 of The 5-Minute MishMash to learn more. Also in this episode: “Fact and Opinion” song, the real definition of rectangles, tour the states and world, and the power of pair share series part 6. 

The 5-Minute MishMash is offering free Rockin’ the Standards songs for anyone who writes a review on iTunes. This is a limited time offer. After your review posts, send a tweet @5MinMishMash and let me know.

Wasting Instructional Time

Maximizing instructional minutes has been one of my passions over the course of my teaching career. After years trying to find ways to cut corners and give my kids the most out of every school day, I’ve arrived at a place of moderation.

Time can’t be replaced, but stressed out kids are even harder to deal with.

Redeem the Time

On the one hand, I still don’t want to waste time during the school day. I have five hours of contact time with my students, 25 hours each week. If I waste that time, my students will not get a good education and will be unprepared for school the following year. Most of my class performs below grade level, particularly in language arts. How can I get them up to grade level? This takes time.

So in my efforts to use our five hours efficiently, I do things like a two-minute start and “Stand When You’re Ready.” These types of techniques speed up the pacing of the class without having negative impacts on student achievement.

Taking our Time

On the other hand, I don’t want my students to feel like everything we do is rushed. I don’t want to stress my kids out because stressed out students don’t learn as well…and an overload of stress is harmful to one’s well-being.

In my efforts to take our time, I do things like brain breaks, think time, opportunities for students to just talk about their thinking (I talk about using pair share for ‘release’ in The 5-Minute MishMash, episode 11), and occasional jokes to lessen the stress.

Action Plan

Here’s my suggestion: Have a sit-down with a colleague. Talk about how you use your instructional minutes. Analyze yourself and figure out where you land on the “instructional minutes” continuum. Are you using up a lot of time on things that just don’t matter? Are there ways you could cut some corners without raising your students’ stress levels? Or perhaps you’re too much of a time-on-task Nazi. Maybe you need to chill out a bit and let your kids (and yourself) be human on occasion. Be honest, and then be patient with yourself. Change takes time. You’re not going to bring things into a perfect balance overnight…and frankly, that perfect balance doesn’t really exist.

I value your comments.

No Sub? Now What?

So your teaching partner isn’t feeling well and there’s no sub. Disaster, right? Nope! A great opportunity to give your students an authentic audience.

Last week, that’s what happened on my campus. I must admit, my first reaction wasn’t supportive and positive. I didn’t have any hard feelings at all toward the sick teacher…just thinking NO! what a hassle to have a bunch of kids in my room who I don’t know and who don’t know me.

But then I was inspired for some crazy reason. Instead of splitting the class up between three other teachers (10 kids each), I volunteered to take all 30. What? Crazy? Yeah…crazy awesome! 60 kids to keep on task.

Over the previous two days, I had taught my students the characteristics of the three Common Core writing genres. My students paired up with our visitors and tutored them on what they’d been learning about writing. My students, even the strugglers, stepped up to the plate and really got into it. I could have walked out and none of my students would have noticed. That’s when you know things are spot on!

I stopped the kids every once in a while to build them up. “Wow scholars! You are really doing an amazing job teaching our guests about the three writing genres! I saw Maxx over here quizzing his tutee to check and make sure the learning was getting through. Keep it up!”

After about 15 minutes of cognitive engagement, I told the kids to find a new partner and check to see how well the previous tutor did. They were off! The buzz of excitement was renewed and the kids were learning.

We all know it’s true…we are more engaged and learn best when we authentically need to teach others.

Share a comment, won’t you?