Making Meaningful Sense of Our World


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Spree2010

I asked a group of teachers, “When you need information, what do you do?”

Think about the question yourself…what do you do?  Do you ask colleagues? Look at encyclopedia? Throw in your “Encyclopedia Britannica” CD Rom into your computer?

What they ALL said (all of them) was that they “google it”.

The ability to google something is important, but assessing that information is imperative.  Many have advocated that students should have the ability to have a device during exams.  Wouldn’t that create a better test?  Finding the information is important, but what you do with the information is where the rubber really hits the road.  If I can google the answer to the test, is the assessment any good?

If you think about it, how many adults go to a textbook to find information? Honestly, why do we even teach with textbooks anymore? Because they are engaging and mirror what we see in the real world or because they are the easiest way to deliver a packaged curriculum? Nowhere outside of schools is “science” that packaged.

Now, when I think about how I look for information, “googling” something is not on the top of my list. Often I ask the question on Twitter and get fewer results which are always better, because they are researched and used by teachers that I have connected with.  Can anyone do that at this moment?  Probably not, but I have taken the time to develop a network of educators that has actually saved me time in the long run.  The time spent following and learning from other educators has been invaluable to my work and is actually a “21st Century Literacy“:

Build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought.

I also have learned where to get information on specific things such as hotels. Searching google might lead me to the hotel’s website and let me know what the people who own the place think of it but Trip Advisor tells me what people who have stayed at the establishment think of the place.  How many hotel websites say that their establishment is just “ok”.  Sites like Trip Advisor keep many organizations “honest” and actually forces them to produce a better product.  Having a “name” as a hotel is no longer enough; you have to back it with quality.  If you aren’t using sites like this already, what information are you losing out on?

I have thought a lot about this topic when I saw the following quote:

“When we teach a child to deal with a changing world, she will never become obsolete.” Seth Godin

The technology will always change, but the skill to find information, make sense of it, and then do something meaningful with what we have learned, is essential.

  • Denise

    I think your point about being intentional here is key. It means to me that you are deliberate about your connections, which shows thought and not happenstance that you connect with others. Twitter is very new for me and I am finding the opportunities to learn from others, fantastic. Building on and creating more of my own thinking and developing skills as I work with others through connections has been phenomenal. Thanks for your posts, they help me greatly. Next steps for me maybe to blog? Little nervous to do that yet though tbh. :).

    • George

      Hey Denise…start the blog!!!! Even in your comment, I learned something from you but you are doing in my space where it is all saved. I think it is imperative that we all have our own space online where we can share what we know and invite others in that process. It has been the BEST thing for my learning. The ability to reflect about what is on my mind has given me the ability to go much deeper. Trust me :)

  • http://ateachersruminations.blogspot.com Elisa Waingort

    Your comment about what you do with the “answer” once you find it is very telling. It implies that “the answer” is only the first step and as educators we need to design tasks and assessments that require so much more than just the answers from our students. I see so little of that going on around me that it’s disheartening.

    • George

      Way more…if you can google it, the question is not that meaningful! Thanks for your comment :)

  • http://Www.catherinedavis.org Catherine

    George this is great. Makes me wonder how we can have students develop their own PLN outside the classroom, so they too can be take advantage of others learning in a safe environment. Especially in the younger grades. Now we have “class” groups in places like Edmodo, but students quickly go from closed to open environments. Wouldn’t it be great to have a student twitter environment where students could safely connect and expand their PLN? Thanks for a great post.

    • George

      That should be a goal…if they are going to start talking to “strangers”, shouldn’t we help to guide that process? Thanks for your comment!

  • http://hughtheteacher.wordpress.com Hugh

    Powerful post that I connect with a lot. The importance of teaching students how to be resourceful and make sense of the information is a valuable literacy. “Google” tests are not tests of competence but are tests of memory. Are we teaching a generation to be critical or are we teaching kids to be good at memorizing facts? Which is good practice & which is the same old same old? Which mirrors our real world more?

    Thank you again George! Your posts help me reflect, question, & learn.

    Hugh
    @hughtheteacher

    • George

      Thanks buddy! I am looking forward to seeing you in April and talk about a lot of this stuff in person :)

  • http://twitter.com/banana29 Alanna King (@banana29)

    Thanks for your post , George. As a teacher-librarian this essential critical thinking piece is my raisin d’être every day. How do you see this happen in your school? There’s been a lot of talk about the necessity of teacher-librarians lately … And for me, the content of this post, makes the value of my job even stronger. But of course, I’m biased. Do we need information specialists to keep harping on this point…or can schools manage this within the regular curriculum? (I’ll do my best to remain objective.)

    • George

      Two things Alanna…Obviously the role of teacher-librarian has to change (for many, this has already happened) to do what you are talking about. Secondly, with that changing role, teacher-librarians will be needed in schools more than ever.

  • http://twitter.com/eduleadership Justin Baeder (@eduleadership)

    Great thoughts, George. To answer your question “If I can google the answer to the test, is the assessment any good?” – I would respond with a resounding “maybe.”

    I’ve seen a LOT of criticism lately of what is essentially a straw man: that school is all about memorizing the dates of battles and Presidents and other easily-found facts that aren’t really all that useful in solving other problems or generating further learning. Sure, if you are teaching history as a set of dead facts about dead people, it’s high time to take your game up a notch.

    But when we paint with such a broad critical brush, we paint right over the really useful information that we’ve all learned. I could very easily google 7 x 6, but I’m going to be hampered in a lot of my daily activities if I don’t have a good grasp of my multiplication facts.

    Personally, I haven’t found that Google gets me off the hook for knowing things. In fact, it’s just the opposite: the ability to instantly look up any fact has made it intolerable for me to wonder about something and not look it up. This doesn’t always lead to particularly useful information (for example, today I learned that Nanny on the Muppet Babies show from the 80s was voiced by the same lady who played June Cleaver on Leave it to Beaver – interesting but not useful), but often it does.

    If we want students to evaluate the information they find online, it helps if they actually know some stuff. For example, if I am reading something from a source that’s new to me, and I find that it’s inaccurate about something I do know about, I’m going to be skeptical about the information it provides on topics I’m less familiar with (Yahoo! Answers, anyone?). It’s not just about picking good sources – it’s about using what you know to size up the new information you’re getting. It’s about schema.

    To address this issue more comprehensively, I think we have to think really hard about the knowledge and skills we really want students to have as a result of their schooling. I would not want a set of standards that don’t actually require students to know or be able to do anything other than look things up online and evaluate what they find. I know that’s not what you are arguing – I just want to point out the importance of easily-googled information.

    Thanks again for your thoughts on this issue.

  • Paul George

    This is a great springboard to get teachers thinking about the kinds of questions they are posing to students in class discussions and on assessments. If the answer is easily found on Google, how might they ramp it up or deepen the rigor? We’re short changing kids if we settle for the one-word answers. How do you get teachers to this level of questioning?

  • http://nobleknitsetmooc.wordpress.com lisamnoble

    Love, love, love the comments, and the original post here. Thanks, George, for provoking such great thinking and reflecting. In #etmooc, we talked a lot about digital literacy and crap detection, and I think that’s some of what we’re getting at here. I appreciate the comment that suggests that the more knowledge we bring to the original search, the better our results are going to be.

    I’m also learning that finding the right place to ask the question (Twitter, Ravelry, Google+) is part of what I have to figure out, too.