Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Challenging Internet search tasks

Have you had the experience of not being able to remember the title of a song you like, or the musical artist? I have been racking my brain to remember the title and author of an accompanying song to an iTunes advertisement I really liked, and at last I found it this evening. I have performed many Google searches for “iTunes commercial,” “iPod commercials,” and even quizzed several local Apple store employees to no avail. I could hum/sing the melody of the song, and even get others to recognize it from their own past experiences, but no one could name the artist or song title.

The breakthrough came when I remembered Steve Jobs had shown this advertisement as part of his MacWorld 2007 keynote address. Adding the month and year of the keynote to my Google search (so I searched for “january 2007 itunes commercial”) turned up the video as the second Google search result. What relief! I’d been trying to figure this out for several days, not because this was a formal assignment I had to complete for a class or a non-classroom taskmaster, but rather because I just wanted to know the song so I could listen to it again.

When it comes to formal learning in schools, I agree with Seymour Papert who has observed the tendency of Schools to “infantilize” learning and often inhibit the natural desires we all have to inquire, discover, and learn. On pages 24-25 of “The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer” Papert wrote:

In stark contrast with the image of Piaget the child constructing Piaget the adult, School has an inherent tendency to infantilize children by placing them in a position of having to do as they are told, to occupy themselves with work dictated by someone else and that, moreover, has no intrinsic value– schoolwork is done only because the designer of a curriculum decided that doing the work would shape the doer into a desirable form. I find this offensive, in part because I remember how much I objected as a child to being placed in that situation, but mainly because I am convinced that the best learning takes place when the learner takes charge, as the young Piaget did. Thus my antennae are always out for initiatives that will allow the purpose of School as a place for learning to coexist with a culture of personal responsibility.

Sometimes when we, as formal educators, have an experience like I had this evening (doing a successful Internet search which initially proved frustrating) our reaction can be “We need a curriculum that will make others learn this skill or concept.” Yet I agree with Papert, that our faith in formal curriculum is often misplaced. In relating the story of how computers in school evolved from their largely exploratory and constructivist / progressive roots in the 1980s, Papert discusses the common error schools have made of making technology/computers into a separate curriculum. Learning tasks, like the one I have just successfully completed relating to a song and commercial advertisement, need to be embedded within meaningful contexts. School 2.0 should mean many things, but primary among them should be the goal of permitting learners to have a greater degree of control over their own learning and the resulting provision of a resulting context within-which to embed new ideas as well as skills.

Do we need a separate curriculum for “effective Internet searching?” There is certainly value in discussing this topic (as I do in periodic workshops) but the skills need to be embedded in real contexts.

I would like to see a wiki created which lists challenging questions to answer via creative Internet searches and utilization of other networking / knowledge creating skills. Gary Stager provided an example of a complex question that can lead to searches of this type in his NECC presentation “Way Beyond Webquests,” in the activity “Who Should I Vote For” about the Iraqi elections in December 2005. I learned a great deal in a short amount of time about Iraqi political parties, and I would have enjoyed and benefited from even more time to explore this subject with other learners in a collaborative investigation.

Alex Kasman has used Google Analytics to uncover some of the diverse questions “Inquiring minds want to know.” What are the complex, engaging and worthwhile questions learners around you want to explore? What are the issues they don’t necessarily know they would enjoy and benefit from exploring, but you know something about? How can those questions become centerpieces of the curriculum, rather than tasks we have to do after school on our own time?

Part (or maybe a large part) of the answers to these questions lies in rethinking curriculum in our schools.

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14 responses to “Challenging Internet search tasks”

  1. Kern Kelley Avatar

    Wes, do you know about You can search for music by singing or humming part of a song. I’ve tried with a couple standard songs (Happy Birthday, etc.) not sure if it would work for something more obscure.

  2. Jim Cottrell Avatar
    Jim Cottrell

    There is also for finding the name of a song. One taps the rhythm of the song on the spacebar.

  3. lajones Avatar

    This is a very interesting and informative post. Thank you!

    Your statement, “School 2.0 should mean many things, but primary among them should be the goal of permitting learners to have a greater degree of control over their own learning and the resulting provision of a resulting context within-which to embed new ideas as well as skills” beautifully encompasses the direction that I believe will be beneficial to our students. (Although I think it may come from an understanding of the demands of the world we live in, rather than educational philosophies in general.)

    Regarding curriculum…I am a calculus/algebra 2 teacher. I feel a great responsibility to the students at all levels in high school mathematics to ensure that they are able to learn the concepts that will support their success in the next course of their choosing. We do divert from the subject at hand on occasion to address their individual needs, but I take very seriously my responsibility to teach the appropriate concepts that will prepare them for the future.

    Which concepts should be taught at certain levels is a very difficult and sometimes daunting task. All of my colleagues take this huge responsibility very personally. We all want to do what is best for the students.

    Now, on the other hand…It is very disheartening for me when a senior year algebra 2 student mentions to me that they have just realized how much they enjoy mathematics and have decided to go into a math related field. Knowing that it will be very difficult for them on entry to college because of the lack of exposure to more advanced concepts in high school, I try to encourage them to stick to their dreams. I explain the possible hurddles that they may encounter and remind them that I am always available any time they mean help in the future. (Students and parents all have my home and cell numbers, as well as email, etc…)

    In summary, challenging coursework is very beneficial when we prepare the students for that challenge. Flexibility is extremely important so that students are not limited in any way by this coursework. All learners should be encouraged to seek the knowledge/wisdom that they desire in addition to learning to work cooperatively within a system that must have their best interests at heart.

  4. Mrs. Durff Avatar

    I so agree! Technology and all it can provide the learner is best integrated into the curricular courses that are already offered. The best we have to offer will include technology embedded just as literacy is embedded in science or math is embedded in art.
    We don’t need any separate courses, but our admins aren’t there yet. I don’t think our kids are there yet either, not en masse. You are forward thinking, Wes, keep leading the way!

  5. lajones Avatar

    We do need to expand computer science coursework in our schools or we will not have the infrastructure required to support other areas of interests.

  6. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Kern and Jim: I hadn’t heard of Midomi or Songtapper! How cool! I added those links at the bottom of my Digital Music Creation workshop curriculum under “other resources.”

    lajones, I agree the vocational needs/workforce side of the school 2.0 conversation will likely be more powerful and have more traction than the pedagogical philosophy. I see close parallels between these in some cases, however. The issue of “what everyone needs to learn” is a critical one. For too long I think we’ve assumed all students need to learn everything, basically, and I don’t think that’s true. Number one, they cannot, and number two, this idea has resulted in our current situation of a required high school curriculum which is a mile wide and in many cases an inch deep. The “recommended” college prep curriculum is now required for most students in most schools I’ve worked in or with. My thoughts on this are highly colored by E.D. Hirsch’s book “Cultural Literacy,” and I do agree with the idea that we need common vocabulary and schema for many things to have a conversation. It’s more difficult to have a conversation about the genocide in Darfur if someone doesn’t know about the Holocaust during WWII.

    Mathematics presents somewhat different challenges. Our “system” has included a fixed set of sequential courses in math for so many years, and those teaching these courses are particularly (at least in my experience) committed to the maintenance of that status quo of course offerings. This current system doesn’t work for many kids, however. It’s not that they can’t do math, I think the instructional approach is often too disconnected to the real world and their own experiences to really “hook” into their brains and learning. Of course some kids seem to just be “naturals” when it comes to math. And, there is also the issue of hard work: Learning math or many other things can be hard and require hard work, and many people don’t want to study hard. They want learning to be easy, like watching a video or playing a video game, and it simply isn’t in many cases. The issues are complex.

    I’m glad my thoughts resonated with you, and I appreciate your feedback. These are certainly ideas that are “under construction” in my brain right now, as they have been for many years.

  7. Jim Cottrell Avatar
    Jim Cottrell

    Putting School 2.0 on a Wiki is a great idea. I think to get School 2.0 up and running, it will have to mingle with and then supplant the current School 1.0 organization.

    It appears that Wesley’s idea of School 2.0 includes self-actuated learning. Control of the learning process is one key element that is pointed to in this type of learning. Another key element is a list of “complex, engaging and worthwhile questions learners would want to explore.” Wesley’s School 2.0 would tap into the “learner’s natural desire to inquire”.

    Wesley’s School 2.0 would also provide a “resulting context within-which to embed new ideas as well as skills”. This would include various learning processes, various methods of collaboration to multiply learning, an assortment of ways to communicate the stuff learned, and feedback from a community of learners. Wesley sees classroom practices combined with Web 2.0 technologies as a way to accomplish all this.

    A School 2.0 Wiki could contain School 2.0 implementations meshed with a School 1.0 organization to get teachers started.
    One part of the Wiki could be organized by subject and be a break down the current curriculum of each subject into a list of Wesley’s engaging questions.
    A second part of the Wiki could contain a menu of processes or scaffoldings that students could be taught to follow to enhance learning.
    A third part of the Wiki could contain a menu of way students could be taught to collaborate to multiply their learning.
    A fourth part of the Wiki could contain a menu of ways students could be taught to connect with a community of learners to provide feedback to refine and enhance their learning.
    A fifth part of the Wiki could contain a menu of ways students could be taught to communicate their learning in the form of some type of product.
    A sixth part of the Wiki could contain a menu of technologies that students could be taught to use to facilitate parts three through five of the School 2.0 Wiki.
    A seventh part of the Wiki could explain and show the benefits of School 2.0 implementations the biggest of which is meaningful, authentic learning.

  8. Jim Cottrell Avatar
    Jim Cottrell

    Fryer & MGuhlin 2.0 – Self-actuated learning multiplied via collaboration and reflected/communicated through the use of Internet technology to a connected community of learners. (All opensource and creative-commons of course)

    All kidding aside, thanks for the light guys. I will attempt to carry the torch. Implementing these ideas is the hard part.

  9. Robert Avatar

    Vernor Vinge saw this one coming. If you read his short story “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” or the expanded novelized verion Rainbows End, the protagonists are kids in high school 20 years from now. One of their core courses they are working on is called “Search and Analysis”.

    Actually those two stories have a lot of School 2.0 stuff embedded in them.

  10. Robert Avatar

    Er, make that “Fast Times at Fairmont High”. Not to be confused with the Sean Penn movie.

  11. […] Wes Fryer is wondering how schools should teach children how to do complex web searches and other nontrivial computer tasks. I made the point in the comments that Vernor Vinge, as usual, saw this issue coming a decade earlier in his short story “Fast Times at Fairmont High“. And I agree with Wes that executing a precisely targeted search contains some very high-level cognitive tasks that can’t be taken for granted among kids. […]

  12. Carl Heine Avatar

    Maybe you missed the session on Five Obstacles to Information Fluency on Monday, but this is a good example of the power of using a number (2007) and proper nouns (january, itunes) in a query. On average, 80% of the words people try in queries are not good “as is.” Wes’s query is a good example of short and sweet (and avoids operators other than AND).

  13. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Carl: Unfortunately I did miss that NECC session but I checked out your website and the materials there look great. Thanks for the comment and the pointer to more resources on more effective searching. 🙂

  14. cheryloakes Avatar

    This is my favorite site for helping students understand internet research. BTW, this site also helps teachers get grounded in the options.