Knowing and Searching

I’ve defended often to myself, to parents, to colleagues the idea in my Social Studies curriculum that my emphasis on research, paraphrasing, citing sources and synthesis of findings is more important than specific content. Being able to search is more important than knowing. What will fourth graders really remember about the Age of Discovery? I hope they remember how to use key words to find information, how to give credit to their sources, how to take notes and find main ideas and interesting details, and finally, how to synthesize their learning in a creative way.

I came across this very interesting quote in my ASCD Student Portfolios course reading today, however:

Being able to find particular knowledge in the mountains of information in libraries or on the Internet is educationally valuable, of course. However, the downside of the emphasis on such procedural skills is a disastrous underestimation of the importance of actually knowing things and having access to knowledge in the memory—because the imagination works only with what we know.

Egan, K. (2005). An imaginative approach to teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

This is powerful.  It is the first statement I’ve come across that successfully explains what we’re all afraid of, that the iPhone is slowly replacing our brains.

Now that’s melodramatic, of course, what I’ve been going for in my Social Studies class is to teach skills to access, evaluate and synthesize information, applying it in new ways. These skills go beyond procedural. However, Egan’s comment really shook me. It is clearly an argument for extended, interdisciplinary, depth of learning on interesting, relevant topics that is often lacking in schools.


One thought on “Knowing and Searching

  1. With this in mind, I did adapt my curriculum a bit this year. I split my units into two pieces: content and research. The first third of the unit we spend learning specific content: big ideas, facts, vocabulary, concepts. We use a combination of presentations, activities and non-fiction reading. The second third of the unit is spent on research skills, and students research a topic of their choice within the scope of the unit. The last third is spent synthesizing what they’ve learned into a final project.

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