The idea that one need not learn what can be looked up on Google (or Siri, etc.) can cause irreparable harm to children.

Today’s (5/13/2017) New York Times has an article about Google’s impact on education.

This quote in the article astounded me:

“The director of Google’s education apps group, Jonathan Rochelle, touched on that idea in a speech at an industry conference last year. Referring to his own children, he said: “I cannot answer for them what they are going to do with the quadratic equation. I don’t know why they are learning it.” He added, “And I don’t know why they can’t ask Google for the answer if the answer is right there.””

The quadratic formula has many uses in science, engineering as well as in higher math. Telling one’s child that there is no reason to learn it (as well as undoubtedly the many related things that might cause discomfort to young brains) will quickly close off several technical career options to them!

I have seen my weakest math students use Google to look up 3 times 5!!! This is the end result of this philosophy – students who fail because they have not acquired a minimal amount of foundational knowledge.

Prominent school administrators have stated that there is no longer a need to learn the multiplication tables because one can always “ask Siri.”

Educators need to stop swallowing this swill hook, line, and sinker! Talented and creative people often develop new ideas because their brains combine older ideas from disparate fields in novel ways. Deprive people of their base of knowledge by telling them that they needn’t bother to learn things when they can just look them up, and they will be transformed into mindless drones!

This is the equivalent of intellectual heroin pushing and should be VIGOROUSLY OPPOSED by educators!!!

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## Author: David Kristofferson

Retired scientist, teacher, bioinformatician, IT director, software product manager, AAAS Fellow, avid cyclist (7690 miles and 724,300 feet of climbing in 2015), backpacker, you name it! Current avocation is tutoring high school students near San Mateo, CA in mathematics, physics and chemistry.
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Teachers often ask questions that border on trivia. How many years did WWI last? What was the last city in Vietnam to fall to the Viet Kong? Where was Shakespeare born? In those cases, I totally agree with the sentiment that if it can be googled, it is a bad question.

3×5? A better question is “Design a word problem using 3 x 5.”

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Google is a great research resource; don’t get me wrong. However when it is used as an excuse not to learn important items in the high school curriculum, especially in a cumulative subject like math, then it is doing students a great disservice.

The “3×5” example in my article came from an unfortunate high school freshman who was working on a completely different math problem, but didn’t know the answer to 3×5. This kind of astonishing lapse is often a by-product of the intellectual laziness caused by the “don’t learn it because it is boring and you can look it up” attitude.

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Interesting thought. However, in my mind, if a student is in high school and doesn’t know 3×5=15, that says more about the schooling that the student has received up until that time and less about Google. I would ask the question “How has a student gotten into high school in my school district and does not have the automaticity skills to remember 3×5?” Is it intellectual laziness or is it a student is using the tools at their disposal to answer a question?

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Tim,

Out on a bike ride at the moment, so just a short reply. Please read the article that I link to above that mentions school administrators and Siri.

California is a hot bed of experimentation which may benefit publishing companies, tech companies, and education researchers. Unfortunately the kids far too often end up on the short end of the stick, i.e., one might say “forked” by these practices 😉.

Not sure where you are from…

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I certainly don’t wish to get into a flame war here. I am in Texas, where our standards are different than the rest of the nation because apparently our times tables are different than everyone else (grin)!

I looked at the CA state standards from when that kid would have been in 3rd grade. Here is what it says:

Students model and solve simple problems involving multiplication and division:

3.1 Use repeated addition, arrays, and counting by multiples to do multiplication.

3.2 Use repeated subtraction, equal sharing, and forming equal groups with remain ders to do division.

3.3 Know the multiplication tables of 2s, 5s, and 10s (to “times 10”) and commit them to memory.

So theoretically, experimental or not, that kids should have not left third grade without having memorized his/her 5s tables.

Again, is the problem with the tools the kid is using to answer the question, or is it with the quality of education that that particular child received? Getting from 3rd grade to 9th grade and no one noticing that he had not mastered his times tables seems to be the bigger issue here.

Again, this is just an outsider looking in, based on your blog entry.

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I failed to cite the Standards I saw: http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ss/documents/mathstandards.pdf

This was pre-CCCS. But even in CCCS students are multiplying within 100 by 3rd grade.

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Hi Tim,

I didn’t notice any flames, and hope there haven’t been any. I have just been trying to respond to your questions and clarify my points.

Actually the standard quoted above was for 2nd grade back in the days when that particular student was in elementary school (see top of page 8 in your link) and by 3rd grade students were supposed to: “2.2 Memorize to automaticity the multiplication table for numbers between 1 and 10.” From my experience, not just this student, but many others also did not reach this goal.

Unfortunately just because this is written in a state standard clearly does not mean there is 100% compliance. Do they hold students back in Texas if they do not complete the standards for a grade? I highly doubt this happens in California, but I never taught elementary school. You are right that this problem has nothing to do with Google, but instead with the school system. However, I am reacting to the “don’t learn it when you can look it up” philosophy which has pervaded both. This Google article is just the latest example of that problem.

The 3×5 case is one of the most extreme examples that I encountered, but I do not want to get distracted from the central point which is clearly not this particular student. I could also cite cases of Calculus BC students whom I have tutored who didn’t completely understand the concepts behind fractions when it came time to deal with rational functions, or precalculus students who thought that SQRT(5+3) = SQRT(5) + SQRT(3). However, neither are these cases the central point; they are all merely symptoms.

Even though the state standards may say that students were supposed to have memorized their times tables in 3rd grade, in reality there has been a pervasive tendency to minimize practice because it is “boring” or “not creative” (the infamous derogatory “drill and kill” saying that I have heard many times from CA teachers). This was quite often justified with the same excuse used by the Google exec, i.e., that kids can look this information up, use calculators, spelling checkers, etc., and thus needn’t burden their limited memory by storing this information.

My reaction to the Google exec’s comments is nothing new. I have encountered this thinking many times before as indicated in this article:

Click to access 15_Why_Can_t_We_Teach_Mathematics_Properly.pdf

It really pains me though when a company as powerful as Google backs this kind of thinking. But of course they would; it is another reason to use their search engine, increase traffic, and raise advertising rates.

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