Reflecting on other times…

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Back in the late 1990’s I used to intrigue my students at the end of the first day in class by sending them home with Carl Duncker’s monk on the mountain problem (made famous by Arthur Koestler). It had become a staple for opening the year, part of the elephant of my teaching. I sent students home knowing this simply stated problem, replete with extraneous information, would generate discussion at the dinner table even in busy households.

The problem, as expected, baffled most of my students and their families, thus reinforcing my resolve to explore problems and issues requiring perseverance. Learning in my classroom was, first and foremost, about creative and critical thinking, finding meaning, and solving mysteries.

If I were still in the classroom today and wanted to keep a similar focus, I could not successfully begin the year with this problem, presented in the same way. Why? Google, of course! My students would simply search “Koestler monk on the mountain” and the first result would be the problem and the solution. They would have no motivation—or need—to figure it out on their own.

Before Google (“BG”), teachers had the freedom to intrigue, to surprise, and often to be the first to bring new ideas to students. Early in my teaching, I could count on being able to expose my students to something new and take time to explore its implications. As the years passed, I observed students knowing more and more, until in my later years, I rarely was able to surprise them. Now, I imagine it’s impossible. After Google (“AG”), anyone can find almost anything, immediately—and information finds us! It seems people are satisfied if and when they can have information quickly. Why bother to make the effort to figure anything out?

Do you miss those days? Looking forward: Can you take advantage of Google to stimulate students’ thinking?

For more ideas like this see Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting students to Learn from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Middle-Room-Frank-Thoms/dp/0615358918.

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