Should we teach how to think or what to think? Let’s google it!

The statement that schools should not teach anything that can be googled lead to a very interesting debate; one in which both sides of the argument supported the idea that google should not be relied on heavily as a teaching tool in the classroom.

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The agree side cautioned the use of google because it is changing our brains and the way that students think. Google is giving students the illusion of answers, a false sense of knowledge, and it is limiting inquiry. The disagree side cautioned the use of google because kids need to memorize basic skills so that they can recall the information when they need it and don’t have access to google. They also mentioned that the use of google as a teaching tool privileges some students over others as not all students have access to google and support in how to use it effectively.

While both teams may have seen eye to eye regarding the need to use google cautiously as a teaching tool, they had opposing views on the pedagogical approach required for a 21st century classroom in a technology dependent society. To me, the heart of this debate was whether schools should be teaching kids how to think or what to think and know.

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The agree side of the debate focused their argument on the need for pedagogy that teaches kids how to think. In the age of technological revolution where what we need to know in order to contribute to society is constantly changing, the content that we teach kids will likely be obsolete by the time they entre the workforce. The one thing that won’t become obsolete is the need for critical thinking and collaboration. If one of the goals of education is to provide students with the skills to be contributing members in society, then teaching them how to think critically so that they can be problem solvers will be necessary. Employers will always want employees who can think critically.

The disagree side of the debate focused their argument on the need for pedagogy that instills specific content knowledge and automaticity in kids. In a society that is becoming ever more reliant on technology for such things as remembering phone numbers and calculating your change at the grocery store, it has never been so important to reconsider the importance of teaching kids how to memorize information. The disagree team likened the memorization of fundamental information to the laying of a strong foundation upon which a house could be built. Without this foundation, the house could not support other stories. They elaborated on this with research that shows that repetitive activity creates pathways in the brain and these pathways are required for analytical thinking. So without the memorization of foundational information, higher levels of thinking, such as critical thinking, are not supported within the brain.

After the debate, I was in support of the no side of the argument – with the idea that memorization of some basic skills and information was necessary, not only for getting by in the many mundane daily tasks, but also as a prerequisite to being able to think critically about issues and concepts. Having repeatedly experienced how relying on google instead of my memory has left me in a lurch when the internet stops working, the need for memorization seemed obvious! But, as I read a statement from Dean’s blog about the importance of both acquiring basic facts and fostering inquiry, I found myself asking whether critical thinking can lead to the acquisition of basic facts. Can our brain not be simultaneously creating the necessary pathways for retention of basic facts and engaging in critical reflection about those concepts and connections? Are we limiting students’ intellectual potential by thinking that critical thought is achieved in a linear way, step by step way and begins only after basic skills have been memorized? The movement in Alberta towards discovery math supports the idea that foundational skills can be developed, not just through repetition and memorization, but also through understanding the key concepts for that skill. If you understand the concepts behind multiplication, you will always be able to perform the calculation, but if you have only memorized your multiplication tables, what happens when you encounter a new number (a new problem)? Given the current technology driven rate of change in our society, it is very likely that kids will encounter a never before seen problem, so we need to give them the cognitive skills to solve the problem, with or without the use of google.

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5 thoughts on “Should we teach how to think or what to think? Let’s google it!

  1. I agree with the idea that we need to give students cognitive skills whether they then Google things after or not. Cognitive skills lead to critical thinking skills which is important so students learn how to sift through information to avoid things like personal biases and other contributing factors.

  2. Well said! There’s a time and a place for knowing your facts and knowing how to find them. It’s using a variety of approaches to create a deeper understanding. I agree there are things that we just need to know how to do and there are times when the most valuable skill will be the ability to problem solve and apply your current knowledge to a new situation. Like Toffler says, the important skills of the future will be the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn.

  3. I agree that students need to understand the concepts and not strictly memorize facts. If they understand the why and how they can use strategies when they are given harder problems to solve down the road.

  4. Great post, Ainsley! Like Erin, I agree that students need to understand the why behind the concepts. I do think as well, however, that memorization does have a place for certain things, like the multiplication table. Having both, combined, is really the best possible scenario, as students can have the most common questions memorized, helping solve problems quicker, yet understand the why behind their knowledge, which could serve them when they see new problems.

  5. I definitely agree with you, Elizabeth, that students need to be able to recall facts efficiently. I’m struggling with the idea of whether we can achieve this by immersing students in inquiry learning. If the end goal of memorization is to know facts and be able to recall information quickly, is rote learning the only way to achieve this memorization or could it also be achieved through inquiry learning? Can our brains be making the necessary connections for memorization and quick recall at the same time as those connections needed for higher levels of thinking or does this have to occur in a linear fashion? This may be slightly off the google topic!

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