I’d like to provide a link here to HSE Parents’ Voice on Facebook. They’ve taken up the fight, and I wish them the best of luck. They’ll be a better resource for current information and developments.
I’m really tired of seeing the following quote on the bottom of educator’s email signatures, or posted on web sites:
If students can Google the answers to our questions, it’s time we start changing our questions.
I cannot find a source for this quote. But like all pithy zingers, it’s a gross oversimplification. One has to have some basic knowledge and context to even form (or formalize) a question. So part of the purpose of education has to be building that foundational knowledge base so that critical thinking is possible.
There also seems to be another dimension to this: thinking from the perspective of a teacher, parent or other adult, rather than the perspective of the student. Just because I can figure out what terms to put into a search engine to unlock some fact from the deep reaches of the internet, that does not mean my children could do the same, even given more time. Or that they could make effective use of it when they found it. If the teacher can Google it, they should tell the student. That’s called … “teaching”. Having the students search for it themselves does not add value, or build real understanding.
So the article that triggered this rant is something I’ve expected or felt for a long time. It’s nice to see a lot more people have considered this problem. As the tagline on Salon indicates, “As search engines get better, we become lazier. We’re hooked on easy answers and undervalue asking good questions.” And as I said, asking a good – and effective – question is much harder than it seems.
A great question should launch a journey of exploration. Instant answers can leave us idling at base camp. When a question is given time to incubate, it can take us to places we hadn’t planned to visit. Left unanswered, it acts like a searchlight ranging across the landscape of different possibilities, the very consideration of which makes our thinking deeper and broader. Searching for an answer in a printed book is inefficient, and takes longer than in its digital counterpart. But while flicking through those pages your eye may alight on information that you didn’t even know you wanted to know.
There are tons of great quotes in the article by people more accomplished than me that back this up.
Say I tell you that on-base plus slugging is a better metric than batting average for a baseball player’s batting performance. Assuming your interested in baseball at all, whether you understand my claim depends on whether you have some basic knowledge of the rules and history of baseball, strategy in a baseball game, and a bit of grade-school statistics. If you don’t have that you can do some reading or other research. If you want to confirm or refute my statement, you’ll probably have to go beyond the scope of what I said to find new perspectives, opposing opinions, and deeper understanding. Or watch Moneyball, I suppose.
Or another example from the article:
To see what I mean, try memorizing the following string of fourteen digits in five seconds:
Hard, isn’t it? Virtually impossible. Now try memorizing this string of fourteen letters:
lucy in the sky with diamonds
This time, you barely needed a second. The contrast is so striking that it seems like a completely different problem, but fundamentally, it’s the same. The only difference is that one string of symbols triggers a set of associations with knowledge you have stored deep in your memory. Without thinking, you can group the letters into words, the words into a sentence you understand as grammatical — and the sentence is one you recognize as the title of a song by the Beatles. The knowledge you’ve gathered over years has made your brain’s central processing unit more powerful.
The point is that, even for trivial things, a simple yes/no answer or factoid is generally insufficient to either solve a real problem make a persuasive argument. It takes a base of fundamental knowledge, perhaps some advanced or specialized knowledge in your topic, and the understanding of how to expend that knowledge by asking good questions and doing research.
Wikipedia and Google are best treated as starting points rather than destinations, and we should recognize that human interaction will always play a vital role in fueling the quest for knowledge. After all, Google never says, “I don’t know — what do you think?”
Getting hooked on the crack of easy answers is hardly a path to success.
The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day. – Albert Einstein, 1955
CNN Opinion featured a column by Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish education reform expert. We links round-up in the previous post included a different column by Sahlberg at The Washington Post. I recommend that you read both.
They show that we’ve fundamentally lost our way in the US by first trying to fix problems that weren’t there. Then policy makers fail to recognize the misguided reforms as the root cause as things start to slip. In America, teachers are disposable, students and school districts are “the market” for profit extraction by large corporations, special interests drive policy and content, and “reformers” ignore data to pursue only their preconceived notions. What could possibly go wrong?
I was cleaning up some old bookmarks, and came across a few articles that, if for no other reason than to keep for myself, I thought I should post. Some are old, and a few older. But they are no less relevant, since we get the same old answers.
iPads can’t improve learning without good teaching Pt 1 – An article from a pro-iPad person that admits it’s really about the teaching. “It’s why we have to think of what we want them to do as learners, not what can the iPad do. We have to make the iPad suit the learning, not make the learning suit the iPad to justify having it.” HSE 21 came at this from the wrong direction, assuming the conclusion. We never had a chance. I never could find Part 2, though.
Technology for 21st Century Learning: Part 1 – Another part 1 post with no part 2; sorry. This one shows that people have been asking the same questions since 2010. But why are there no answers? “21st century learning is about the experience, not about the tools you are using. The experience defines the tools, not the other way around.” I said the same thing here and here, a voice in the wilderness.
Why iPads Haven’t Changed Much In Your Classroom – A July ’14 refresh of a post originally from 2012. This was when Apple announced it’s revolution in electronic textbooks. My read is that it says the program is unproven, there’s a lot of concern about the infrastructure needed, and also concerns about this being too closely tied to other Apple technologies. The best part, though, is a Steve Jobs quote that never gets old:
I used to think that technology could help education. I’ve probably spearheaded giving away more computer equipment to schools than anybody else on the planet. But I’ve had to come to the inevitable conclusion that the problem is not one that technology can hope to solve. What’s wrong with education cannot be fixed with technology. No amount of technology will make a dent. It’s a political problem. The problems are sociopolitical. – Steve Jobs, 1996.
What if Finland’s great teachers taught in U.S. schools? – A general article about education from Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish author, government official, and education expert. He has a book on the topic, as well, though I’ve not checked it out. In short, Finland’s system works so well because they first reward and empower teachers, then expect results. The US system is essentially described as no carrot, all stick. US teachers would probably thrive in Finland assuming they met the rigorous qualifications (and knew the language). Finnish teachers would probably wither on the vine here where everybody that ever went to school is an expert. Although the article was for the Washington Post, funny that the example he uses is Indiana. Or perhaps not so funny. He looks at several fallacies and deconstructs (i.e. dismantles, discredits) each one.
- The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.
- The most important single factor in improving quality of education is teachers.
- If any children had three or four great teachers in a row, they would soar academically, regardless of their racial or economic background, while those who have a sequence of weak teachers will fall further and further behind.
All four points are completely false. Unfortunately, all of the Very Serious People (to borrow Paul Krugman’s verbiage) know these to be true. They cannot be convinced otherwise, regardless of what proof one might provide.
A short article from the NY Times on tech company executives and how they handle technology with their own children. I’ve heard this before, but it’s a good reminder:
I’ve met a number of technology chief executives and venture capitalists who say similar things: they strictly limit their children’s screen time, often banning all gadgets on school nights, and allocating ascetic time limits on weekends.
I was perplexed by this parenting style. After all, most parents seem to take the opposite approach, letting their children bathe in the glow of tablets, smartphones and computers, day and night.
Yet these tech C.E.O.’s seem to know something that the rest of us don’t.
I wouldn’t go that far. It’s something that a lot of us parents know, but our schools continue to blunder ahead in the face of research and vast anecdotal evidence. Our children have little choice but to comply.
The tech executives restrictions take a number of forms, sometimes extending even to phones. It seems actual, physical books remain popular.
This last bit is hypocritical, given how many of these same companies are pushing electronic platforms and content (e.g. textbooks) on schools to drive their companies’ profits.
The new ad for the 2015 IKEA Catalog, such a clever parody, is funny because it has deep roots in simple truth.
“You know, once in a while, something comes along that changes the way we live. A device so simple and intuitive, using it seems almost familiar.”
There’s nothing I can add; it speaks for itself.
“At IKEA, we feel that technology that is life-enhancing should be in the hands of everyone.”
I could not agree more.
It must be the start of the school year bringing all of this research to light. But it would have been better if we had this in the Spring. Schools are reluctant to make last minute changes to programs now that school is in session (i.e. we’re stuck with iPads in HSE for this year). By the time plans for 2015-16 are being developed, these articles will be old news, the distant past as far as the Internet is concerned. That said, it’s a growing body of research on a number of points.
The iPad Education Revolution Stalls Out (gizmodo.com, Aug 26, 2014) – A good summary of pitfalls and concerns to date, with a lot of links
The quote that reveals how at least one corporate school reformer really views students (Washington Post, Aug 27, 2014) – not entirely untrue, but callous and short sighted at best
Early school start times unhealthy for students (CNN.com, Aug 28, 2014) – the impact goes beyond academic performance
And saving the best for last…
5 Lessons Drawn from the LAUSD iPad Fiasco (ipadeducators.ning.com, Aug 27, 2014) – good article and definitely worth a read, but here are the five summary points:
- Lesson 1: Change starts with a vision
- Lesson 2: Top-down strategies rarely work without communication and consensus
- Lesson 3: Training requires more than an introductory “how-to” workshop
- Lesson 4: Technology should empower students
- Lesson 5: It’s not about the device
Uncomfortably familiar, a pattern repeated near and far.