Monday, November 30, 2009

Curiouser and curiouser…

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One of the smartest shows on television as far as Sara and I are concerned is Fareed Zakaria’s GPS. This past Sunday he had the chief poobah from Google, Eric Schmidt, in the studio for an interview.

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Their conversation began around internet security and the info that Google as a company collects from its users. Then they veered into finding information on the intertubes of all things world wide webby. The web – it was postulated – has changed the way we learn and the way we need to teach because facts are no longer something that need be remembered – they are now merely commodities to be downloaded.

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Schmidt commented that when he was a kid in school  he spent a whole lot of time memorizing info because that was the most efficient way to have it at hand – stored in his skull. Now – anything one could want to know is just a click away. I myself like to quote Einstein who it is rumored did not know his phone number – because he didn’t see the reason to memorize something he could so easily look up.  How many dinner table arguments have been settled with a Blackberry instead of a butter knife?

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Of course the draw back to the glut of data available is the parsing and vetting of its sheer mass for usefulness. There is no editor standing between us and the info floating out there in in Cyberia. We’ve been given the keys to the warehouse that holds everything. How do we sort what’s true and false, what’s junk or treasure, helpful or dangerous?

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What we need to be teaching our students is how to think, to question, to look at the world through a  critical eye. The facts are out there for easy picking – all this time spent on standardized tests preparation - let me throw out a little aside here: There has NEVER been a study that links success on high stakes standardized tests with success in life. All this time spent on standardized test preparation is time spent doing the exact opposite of what our kids need to be learning.

This sets kids up to believe that the world is black and white – right and wrong – served up as a multiple choice problem where all we need to do is fill in an oval with number two pencil. When, what we really should be doing is engaging their curiosity, encouraging them to ask questions, to check multiple sources – this information laden society has turned us all into reporters who have to do their own “fact” verification.
 
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What are we doing to feed our kids curiosity? Well, last weekend while visiting Sara’s daughter in northern Virginia, Sara and I took the boys to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History where we ogled dinosaur bones and stuffed mammals. Turns out the museum is free, parking was easy to find, and traffic into and out of DC is not a problem at all on a Sunday morning. We felt a bit embarrassed that this was the first time we had packed them up and gone into the district. See – we thought it was going to be a whole lot harder. Guess we shoulda checked our facts a bit better. Hey – we’re still learning.

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