Oct 01 2010

Information Or Application?

“In a rapidly changing world, where the answers to questions are going to be changing, then what our children know will be less important than what they know how to do with it.” -David Warlick, Redefining Literacy 2.0

When I was younger, I had a small tablet of note paper that had a little saying printed in the corner: “The more I study, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I know. The more I know, the more I forget. The more I forget, the less I know–so WHY STUDY?!” I used to contemplate that little saying for long periods of time (to a kid, five minutes could be a long period of time) and I do believe it actually impacted the way I thought about learning. When I was in college, I had several classes (American History 1600-Revolution, I’m looking at you) that required us to memorize lots of names and dates. It would be safe to say that I hated that class. Not because I didn’t like the subject or the teacher (it was a telecourse), but because I found studying for the purpose of doing what a computer could do better and faster to be extremely pedantic.

I don’t mean to imply that names and dates aren’t important, because they are most definitely so. What I mean is that wouldn’t my time be better suited to learn where those names and dates fit in to the “bigger picture” and what they mean in the greater context of the social experience? For example, which is more important: to know that Joan of Arc died on May 30, 1431, or that she was fighting against the same British tyranny that drove many pilgrims across the sea to the “New World”? Tying Joan of Arc to Christopher Columbus in a historical context is, in my opinion, a much more valuable use of knowledge and my time.

In an environment where people have the power of Google literally at their fingertips through smartphones and tablet computers, factual knowledge (information) is mere seconds away. Did I know off the top of my head the date that Joan of Arc died? Of course not–I Googled it. I have no need to memorize that date if it takes me less time to look it up than it would to commit that piece of information to my long-term memory. With this kind of power, I can spend more of my active learning time worrying about how “information” is relevant to me, to historical context, or to society and less about the date that King Charles VII died.

Several years ago, I taught a Music Appreciation class in the secondary levels. I did not require them to memorize the birth and death dates of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, but I did require them to learn what the different eras sounded like, and how their chronological order impacted that. Then, it was easy to fit those big three composers into their respective eras as men whose music exemplified that type of music. I don’t care if a student knows that Beethoven died in 1827, but I do care if he knows that he bridged the gap between the Classical and Romantic movements in music.

I am in complete agreement with Mr. Warlick’s statement quoted above. So what if you can name the genus and species of 30 different types of birds? So can Google. What are you going to do with that knowledge that will have an impact on either your life or the lives of those around you?

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    • Jada Reed on October 2, 2010 at 1:55 pm
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    Very nice blog post! I like the fact that you went back to when you were a kid and gave us your point of view from then. Very interesting! Is that how many of our kids or students feel today, probably? There are the few who love to know those dates, my dad would be one of them. Sometimes I don’t even use Google I’ll use him!

    • Pam Allender on October 3, 2010 at 10:51 am
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    Good job of responding to Warlick’s statement. I enjoyed he way that you took your chidhood and tied it into the topic. I also agree there are several students today who do not care about memorizing information when they can Google it. Let’s teach students to use the tools available in the 21st century and tie those tools back to the past history.

    • amycooper on October 5, 2010 at 3:20 pm
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    Very well written! I think we all agree that Warlick made a valid point. I believe educators should make learning relevant and engaging. Many students will find that more enjoyable and interesting. There are those students however that love knowledge in all forms and memorizing information just for the fun of it. I think it’s important to provide those opportunities too. I think there should be a good balance between the two. With a well thought out lesson and opportunities for research hopefully we can meet all the learning needs and interests of each student.

    • ryancorcoran on October 5, 2010 at 10:17 pm
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    I agree that there are several students who love memorizing information just for the fun of it, but I still ask my main point. So what? Unless it is improving the lives of those around you, it is a useless endeavor. Granted, most of what Americans do now falls into that description, but that doesn’t make it right. Information is only beneficial if it leads to a better, more enlightened community. To steal from a recently concluded TV drama, “If we can’t learn to live together, we’re gonna die alone.”

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