My Very Excellent Mother

November 27, 2006 on 7:43 pm | In education, nycist, technology | 1 Comment

One of the topics that I’ve been thinking a great deal about lately is the nature of knowledge in an age of ubiquitous access to vast amounts of information. What does it mean to be an educated person these days? How much data do we need to carry around in our heads when facts are only a few key search terms away?

Not long ago I was going through some papers that my mother had saved from my elementary school days. I came across a report I had done entitled “The Solar System: Our Nine Planets.” As if on cue, my nephew–a sixth grader–walked into the room and informed me with the utmost authority and confidence, “There are only eight planets.”

How many children over decades and decades have memorized the nine planets? It was so important to know them, to get them RIGHT! What mnemonic did you use? My Very Excellent Mother Just Sent Us Nine Pies? And then, poor Pluto got demoted.

This strikes me as an apt illustration of some of the problems we face as educators. We feel compelled (by tradition, society, colleges, the SAT?) to teach a body of knowledge, but what in the world does that mean? How do we manage the expanding information and the shrinking globe (universe, even)? The obvious answer is that we need to develop skills in our students, not tranfer facts to them, but what does that look like within the context of a “traditional” education?

Technology certainly offers us new opportunities to get our students to connect with others and explore ideas outside of the walls of our schools, but the promise of technology is yet to be realized. We’re still mostly in the mode that technology should support what good teachers already do. Perhaps. But maybe we’re getting closer to the point where it’s truly going to be transformational.

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  1. Bill — We’re definitely in a shift period — I guess that we at technologies and futurists understand what students “need to know” and content is critical to applying those skills, but we have a long way until our colleagues get that. What’s tough, if that most of these same colleagues are wonderful teachers who teach great skills — so I find myself torn on so many days…

    Keep on blogging. Loving it!

    Comment by Alex Ragone — November 28, 2006 #

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