Saturday, May 31, 2014

An Enormous Red Flag - this is not fair to kids.


....Houston, we have a problem.  
I have been extremely critical of education.  As our nation, technology, jobs, and communities continue to evolve at lightning speed, our education system has not been keeping up.  It has been stagnant.  The system of education, which has been around for over 100 years, continues to value and emphasize the same things it did back then.  Public schooling was especially important during the Industrial Age when the goal was to convert students into obedient factory workers that could help in the work force.  Obedience was the key.  Kids sitting in rows.  Raising their hands to ask questions.  Listening to lectures while taking notes.  Etc....

Today, however, we are doing the same thing.  This is absurd.  On most final exams that I have seen, students are forced to memorize a plethora of information that they must regurgitate for a multiple choice test.  The majority of (if not all) questions on the tests are the lowest type of questions (the bottom rung of Bloom's Taxonomy and Webb's Depth of Knowledge).  The craziest part is that students are not allowed to use any resources.  Close the book, turn off the technology, and recite this information from memory.  This may have been an extremely important skill before books were invented, and a fairly important skill after books were invented, but today we have the internet.  There is no reason for students to memorize 98% of the content which they are forced to memorize.  As Seth Godin said, "If something is worth memorizing, it is worth looking up".

What do you do when you do not know something?  Do you quit and give yourself a metaphorical "F" and move on?  No.  You most likely look it up on the internet or ask someone.  This is what everyone does.  Rather than have our student playing an intense and stressful game of Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy, we should consider preparing them for real life.  Most people that I talk to in the community will be quick to tell you that "kids these days are excellent with technology".  WRONG.  This is definitely a myth.  I have just spent a lot of time witnessing high school students research things on the internet and the majority of students are terrible at it.  

IT IS NOT THEIR FAULT!  While we are running around making them memorize fact upon fact, we are failing to teach them what you actually do in the real world.  We do not teach them how to become expert researchers.  Why?  I always tell my class that if you could learn 10,000 facts in a class that you would magically never forget, that still wouldn't be as powerful as learning how to find facts via the internet.  The latter opens you up to trillions of facts at the tips of your fingers.


I decided to see how good students were at researching information this year.  A couple teachers and I played a game with students from 6th grade to 12th grade, in which they had "researching contests".   We would set up a bracket in which students would try to find the CORRECT information quickly, and then move to the next round.  Four students would go at a time.  They would go to a computer and we would put a question up on the projector.  The following is an example of one of those questions.

There is a county in Wisconsin which has the same name as the last name of the 14th President of the United States.  In this county, there is a state university.  Who is the chancellor of this university?

As soon as the question popped up, the students were to begin looking it up.  The first two students to answer the question correctly would move on.  The other two were eliminated.  In the first round I had some intelligent 10th, 11th, 12th grade students going.  I posted the question and watched.

One minute.

Two minutes.

Three minutes.

Four minutes.

Five minutes.

Finally I asked what was going on.  Did anyone have the answer yet?  They all looked at me and said no.  About two minutes later, one student said "I can't find it."  One student finally submitted an answer, but it was wrong.  The other two also gave up.

I repeated this game over and over until I realized they were absolutely terrible at this.  I love these students and they are great people.  Intelligent, hard-working, and willing to put forth effort.  They had never been taught this, however.  At least no in a way that made sense to them.

I feel extremely guilty that our system is constantly sending students without these skills out into society.  About 50% of students who start college, do not graduate.  Our divorce rate, suicide rate, poverty rate, depression rates are lower than they have ever been.  Yet, at the same time, we are not teaching our students how to find answers or how to find help.  We are assessing them on irrelevant things that they will never use again after the fantasy land of academia.  

Since this observation I have brought in Trivial Pursuit cards and have students look up the questions that are on them.  Amazingly, they are not even very good at these single step questions.  They often cannot find some of the answers, and often provide incorrect answers.

The Industrial Age is gone.  Kids are awesome.  Kids are looking to us for guidance.  Kids are required to attend school.  It is time for schools everywhere to pick up their end of the bargain and start providing a relevant curriculum that will prepare these students for their future.  They all have a future as people, friends/family, and workers (in that order).

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                             COMPASSION BASED LEARNING -


  1. Hi Ollie, I appreciate your reflection of the experiences and activities you have pursued with your students. I also see this (obviously) at the college level. My college students struggle to research and often times they are in their final semesters of college (and becoming teachers). Scary! So not only is their a need to teach K-12 students how to use technology to conduct research; there is also a need to teach teachers (both preservice and inservice) how to use technology to conduct research. We should chat! I will be in Wisconsin to visit in July. :-)

  2. Mr. Ollie, thank for the insight you give on the activities you partake in with your students. Your experiences have left me wondering what I could be doing better as an educator. I teach alternative education at an urban school district in PA. My high school students cringe at the research even after I supply them numerous resources. I make a conscious effort to stray away from the 1800's as you put it an incorporate all the technology means we have available for my students to utilize. The most frightening aspect to me is, the inability of my colleagues to incorporate technology into research and their daily lessons in general. I agree with that there is a need to educate teachers even more than students on the benefits and give the resources on how to use technology.


Please engage in the discussion. I would love to hear what you have to say!