Thursday, October 18, 2007

Fact Finding vs. Learning

Seth Godin gives me required daily reading. Today's post focuses on classroom bans on using Wikipedia for research. But, for as many classrooms that ban Wikipedia, I've seen teachers go against this grain and use it to make up for more than fear of the unknown.

I love Seth's discussion of synthesizing ideas as the valuable skill in today's post, but I feel compelled to point out that the ranks of "rogue teachers" have been using web quests in the classroom. The idea is exactly as he maps out in the last paragraph of the post, where students are given a web browser and a question to answer. Sometimes the output is a paper, other times it's a panel discussion or presentation.

Wikipedia is one valid source for these projects. Some teachers challenge students to check facts, whether from Wikipedia or not. Other classrooms are fact-checking Wikipedia entries as class projects.

I am not a teacher, but I was privileged to meet lots of great teachers while working on GM's K-12 education web site, who are using these web-based resources in the classroom. And as we talked with these teachers, they told us stories of their colleagues... and this is confirmed as I look at my sons' (two of 'em) schools. The schools that are strapped for physical materials find a way to get their hands on computer lab time and help students do these tasks in their heads, on chalk boards, and on computers. Ironically, it's the "at risk" schools in places like Boston and Los Angeles that are making headway in academic process by using web quests, Wikipedia and HowStuffWorks.

The result? Students learn that very synthesis of facts. They don't spend nearly as much time hunting down those facts. We've built the tools, let's find more ways to get them into the classroom!