Why K-12 schools are failing by not teaching SEARCH

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This past week I had the opportunity to spend a day with some of the faculty at Western Washington University talking about reverse instruction…or at least my idea of what that means.

To get started, we did a little reverse instruction of our own where I had them read the connectivism article by George Siemens before I arrived. Once I got there, we then set up the classroom for discussion with collaborative note taking and a back channel chat…both were new concepts to most present.

However, as cool as it was to be talking with faculty at a University, I soon found myself apologizing for the K-12 system and its failure in providing students with the skills they need to be ready for college.

As we were having a great discussion about the connectivism article and what it meant for universities and their classrooms, one faculty member spoke up with this:

I just wish they could find information better. They can’t tell the junk from the good stuff.

….and that’s when I started apologizing for our K-12 system. I find it sad that university professors are not using technology in their classes. They are not trying new things like posing interesting questions and having students research those questions and come to class ready to have deep discussions about them because “they can’t tell the junk from the good stuff”. As soon as this statement was made, heads started nodding around the room and with my own recent rantings on this subject as well….I led them into that discussion.

“I’m sorry the K-12 system has failed your students….they should know how to search by the time they get to college. But seeing that they don’t, until your students come prepared, you are going to have to pick up the slack.”

I then spent 30 minutes teaching university faculty how to search….because guess what……they didn’t know how to either. Which is exactly what I’ve come across with K-12 teachers, which helps to explain the unpreparedness of our students. So who is teaching our teachers the skills they need to teach our students?

Then today as I’m thinking about all of this I stumble across this new research done by the Pew Internet & American Life Project titled: How Teens Do Research In the Digital World

Full disclosure: I haven’t read the whole paper yet but am reading it as I write this. I think this paper should, if nothing else, raise our concerns on just how bad our education system is right now in teaching kids to search or reSEARCH.

Overall, the vast majority of these teachers say a top priority in today’s classrooms should be teaching students how to “judge the quality of online information.” As a result, a significant portion of the teachers surveyed here report spending class time discussing with students how search engines work, how to assess the reliability of the information they find online, and how to improve their search skills. They also spend time constructing assignments that point students toward the best online resources and encourage the use of sources other than search engines. (Highlights by me) (Student_Research p.2)

OK…so these AP teachers (that’s who the survey was done on) say they “spend class time.” We do not know how much, or when they are teaching the skill of search.

Teachers and students alike report that for today’s students, “research” means “Googling.” As a result, some teachers report that for their students “doing research” has shifted from a relatively slow process of intellectual curiosity and discovery to a fast-paced, short-term exercise aimed at locating just enough information to complete an assignment. (Student_Research p.3)

Really? Because I thought this was a given in society as a whole. Even in the age of libraries and encyclopedias, the research that most students I know did was often an “exercise aimed at locating just enough information to complete the assignment”…it just took us a lot longer to locate that information-it did not make it more meaningful. Let’s remember we’re talking about 14-18 year olds here. Everything is about “just enough information to complete an assignment”. If the assignment is not engaging, has no meaning to me, of course I’m going to do the bare minimum. Isn’t that human nature? Now, if the question matters to me, then research becomes deep and meaningful…but there is a sense of Drive here that is not being talked about.

OK, this table appears on page 6:

I’ll stop reading here as I’m tired and this research is frustrating me. It’s telling me things I already know. In fact, I should like it as between this research and my own experiences, I know this is an issue. I would say it should be one of the #1 issues that every school is looking at, and really it isn’t that hard of an issue to fix. Teach search skills, don’t talk about them, don’t think students already know them-teach them. Search is THE most important skill of our time. When I mean Search, I mean all six of these questions above. That’s search or reSEARCH if you want to get technical about it. I understand….the web as we know it has only been around for 18 years or so and Google only 8 years (well…since their IPO and people really knew who they were). In the history of education, that’s small potatoes, I get it. I get that education and educational curriculum are slow moving entities, but we are doing our students a disservice. We are not preparing them for university and we’re not preparing them for the world that awaits. We are failing on both fronts and really there is no reason we should be.

Links you might want to explore:

Start The Year By Teaching Search

K-2 Search Lesson Plan

3-5 Search Lesson Plan

6-8 Search Lesson Plan

9-12 Search Lesson Plan