The Problem

It’s not a secret anymore. The answers are out there. Whether it’s a high-level writing prompt or a simple multiple-choice question from the publisher’s question bank, the reality is the same: if it’s been used at all before, the answers are likely posted somewhere on the internet. That Teachers-Pay-Teachers activity we just paid $2.99 for? All they have to do is Google the exact wording.

The Classroom Management Approach

One approach many teachers take is the “classroom management” approach. I call it this because it relies on the assumption that the problem is fundamentally one of control. This approach typically regards “Googling it” as cheating and views technology as the enemy. It results in practices like banishing technology and not allowing students to work on assignments outside of the classroom. Ironically, when students leave the room, we get back on Teachers-Pay-Teachers to search for another activity for tomorrow.

The All-Out-Quest-for-Novelty Approach

Another approach rightly recognizes that at least one aspect of the problem is that of originality. If it’s never been seen before, it won’t be searchable. There’s truth to this, of course. Changing up the questions a little bit makes them a little less searchable, and it’s actually one of the first things I would recommend doing. But this approach often morphs into more than that: it assumes that the problem lies with the teacher’s ability to create new, fun, “engaging”, world-class, previously inconceivable activities. We assume we need to just work harder, and find ourselves eagerly spending 2 or 3 hours for a one-hour lesson that the kids might remember only for the novelty of the activity and not the content. And with that, we’re off on the perpetual treadmill of seeking the next new thing.

The Embrace Google Approach

This approach recognizes the value Google truly can have in kids’ learning, and disregards the notion that Google is ultimately sinister. It involves understanding exactly what Google can do and allowing it to have its rightful place in the learning environment. Teachers that embrace Google in the classroom will gladly allow kids to “Google it”, but will not let them rest with what they find in the search results, and will definitely not let the end-game be a list of possible answers from which students can arbitrarily choose one. This approach refuses to allow Google to create more problems for us teachers and empowers kids to become masters who can expertly wield its powers. If we truly want to foster life-long learning, this is the only legitimate approach.

How do we do it?

Embracing Google isn’t a strategy. It involves changing our patterns of thought and being open to a mindshift. But there are some steps we can think about and take to start moving in the right direction.

  1. Change the questions. I don’t just mean the wording. Let’s change what we’re expecting. Let’s recognize that kids can do more with Google and make sure our questions reflect that. Better yet: if the answers are out there, how about challenging the students create the best questions–or crafting questions that get at the content but are the most unsearchable?
  2. Stop creating assignments and start developing vision. We don’t need to work harder, we need to develop a broad vision for the direction we want our students to go and expect them to go beyond–because they can. Better yet: help kids develop their own vision for their learning using the resources available and exploring what other kids are doing.
  3. Empower students to learn the way they want–but don’t settle for less than learning. With the almost infinite resources available, students can have the choice of not only what they want to learn, but can even decide in many cases how they want to learn it. Let’s let that be ok. Better yet: expect them to learn in more than one way, or a different way each time.
  4. Realize that searching is a skill to be refined. One thing students can do but often can’t do well is search. Help them learn how to refine their searches to find more precisely what they’re looking for. Better yet: expect students to include a narrative of their search experience as part of any activity.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be showing examples of things my students used to do in my classroom–before I embraced the power of Google–and looking at how I might do it now. Stay tuned…


Got questions or more practical ideas? We’d love it if you leave a comment below!