I Test, Therefore You Are


A friend of mine, Dr. Jeff who runs the Blog on the Universe, recently posted on twitter {My view- Internet has hammered a nail through the heart of “knowledge is power” & redefined critical thinking as power.} and I retweeted his point. You see, it parallels some things that I have said to my students and other teachers for years. I hate teaching facts. I still remember being handed a CRC in my junior year as I pursued a degree in physics. My physics teacher said to me, “You never have to memorize the equations and constants again. Just use this.”   That is the point when I learned how I use  facts is more important than memorizing them .

The problem is, many consider this to mean that facts are worthless. This could not be farther from the truth.  Many think that the drill and kill of multiplication tables and of the elements of the Periodic Table will lead to useful memories that will enable students to solve complex problems.  The only positive learning this allows is the quick recall later of a specific factoid.  But it also allows for quick and easy multiple choice testing of the students. This, of course is the real reason many force memorization on their students.

But could this be done in a better way?

Sure!

But it would take time for the teaching of critical thinking and time for the testing of critical thinking – And time is something teachers are not allowed to have.

Those forcing these tests down our throats do not really care how students think. They only care about how good a soundbite they can get from the statistics garnered from the tests.  This has to stop. As long as education is controlled by people who’s only goal is to be re-elected, we will be forced to teach students to memorize and memorize only.

Dr. Jeff’s view that the internet has hammered a nail through the idea that “knowledge is power” is very much in line with my old physics professor’s idea that I should stop trying to memorize all of the equations in physics (which no one ever told me during the preceding years.) My memorization had been a dismal failure. Once I knew where to look up the “facts,” I was quickly able to solve the problems from my thermo class and my quantum classes.  By doing these critical thinking problems, the most used equations and facts eventually stuck in my mind. The ones that were not used much I still had to look up but now I knew where to look things up. After learning this, problem solving became easy.  I no longer spent wasted hours trying to memorize.  However, I did end up ‘memorizing” the stuff I used.  The internet is this generation’s CRC handbook.  If we show  students, over and over, how to use the net to find facts, these methods will be second nature to them. This will allow them to use their brains for something really productive – THINKING.

As teachers, we need to adopt this idea that the internet is a tool for our subject. Allow and foster its use in our pedagogy.  It is fast becoming more important than reference books and is quickly becoming a place for realtime classroom connections with people and places from all over the world.  We do our students a disservice  if we don’t teach them how to use what will be the most important collection of facts ever collected.  Facts cannot do anything without the ability to process them.  By encouraging creative thinking we teach our students how to cope with anything they may come across.

And isn’t that why you became a teacher in the first place?

Nothing should please you more than to know that you helped someone solve a problem.

Whether it is a problem that you tested them on or not.

Update: 2/9: I just read a couple of great posts on the same theme. So here they are:

Tech Transformation

Constructing Meaning

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6 thoughts on “I Test, Therefore You Are

  1. Excellent post! One of the great advantages of homeschooling is that I can and do take the time to empower my “students” by teaching them critical-thinking skills. I don’t give them answers to memorize, I teach them how to find the answers themselves, whether it be through research, problem-solving, or even simple logic. The wonderful thing about that is, not only do they learn the original answers, they discover many more things along the way.

  2. Great line, Gene – I missed that particular tweet but I love it. And I really like the way you’ve expounded on it. But then, I generally like your blogs ;-).

  3. Hi, I am a former student who graduated in 2005. I am so glad to see this for your student’s of today. I found your sites through my technology class at Nazareth College. My teacher linked your site to our discussion about the great things that can be done with a wiki in education. Thanks for the great work. here is his site http://web.mac.com/ransoms/EDTS523/Topic4.html I also agree with all of the point you have just posted. Keep up the great work

  4. The one time when I could have used s’ I missed it. I am glad your students’ are getting lots of technology with their physics that will last a life time. This will also be something they can use in their college lives. They will most likely be teaching their college professors how to use sites like this to better their own college courses.

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