Internet Research Task

Ah, the internet research task for homework. A series of questions to be written up on a sheet. This week’s battleground which involves Googling, skimming and probably cutting and pasting. Of course it also assumes access at home to the Internet and a computer.

There is absolutely no evidence of any academic benefit from assigning homework in primary or middle school – so I really don’t feel bad if the sheet lies at the bottom of the backpack. For younger students, in fact, there isn’t even a correlation between whether children do homework and any meaningful measure of achievement.

So Googling homework is perhaps the worst of things, especially when the ‘answers’ are copied to paper as a teacher-convenience. How much say did the kids have in determining how this had to be done and and whether it really needed to be completed at home in the first place? and if they are at home online why are they not using something like Edmodo in which they can hold a conversation and connect to each other – if not the teacher. I can’t see how the latest idea from the Minster of Edumaction – Teachers to 4 days of PD of their own accord per year – is going to improve this situation. What PD, who from, who measures, what’s the feedback …

In my 10 year old’s academic career to date – this is a void and one which has been filled by games, especially of late Minecraft, where it is all about feedback and creativity. As far as I know, no one’s ever even attempted to teach him any digital literacy skills and has gone at least 18 months at one point between even using a computer. So as a parent, I get to say ‘what digital education revolution’. A series of questions that can be Googled is simply busy work. It’s fundamentally poor teaching strategy. But how does the teacher know this, if the education-liberators didn’t quite get around to this or that school in between conferences, meetings and Tweeting.

Googling homework doesn’t create meaning making, or help kids become more organised. Most kids will promptly forget any facts they skim from Google (research says). That’s not real achievement. Real achievement is learning long-term life skills, the ability to be a creative thinker and work with others.

The point is to develop judgment or understanding of questions that require a nuanced grasp of the various facts and to develop the ability to think about and use those facts. If you do not have copious essential facts at the ready, then you will not be able to make wise judgments that depend on your understanding of those facts, regardless of how fast you can look them up. So In that way, the internet is useful and terrible with it’s ready flow of ‘facts’ and ‘rubbish’. How is a child to know? if they are not being give information on how to find and evaluate information.

So the homework paper lies on the bench. I’d rather he played a video-game, because the ones he plays create mental questions and he’s more than able to seek answers online – then test out whether or not they are accurate or useful. Thats the problem with Googling homework – on paper. Zero forced feedback, zero critical thinking.

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One thought on “Internet Research Task

  1. I agree with everything that you have said in this post. All too often schooling and especially homework focus entirely on lower order thinking skills and meaningless ‘find the answer’ tasks.

    Home is a place for families, interaction, discussions, play and engagement with the world outside of school. Games are a huge part of ‘home time’ (N.B. They should be a big part of school too!)

    Homework is always a contentious issue in schools. Most often it is the small group of parents who are the school council or P&C group that dictate that homework must be given and that each year level must undertake a certain amount of homework each night. Many teachers are ideologically opposed to homework but have little say in the matter. As a result of mandated homework, teachers often set menial, time-filling tasks because it takes no time out of their day to come up with these lower order thinking tasks.

    Your comment about the 4 days of PD is very apt. It’s ok for PD to be mandated but teachers then need access to engaging, 21st century professional learning that can be applied in classrooms. Who provides this? More importantly, who guides teachers to the quality professional learning opportunities? This sounds like a typical government policy sounds great as an election promise but is totally impractical to implement.

    Homework needs to be meaningful and relevant. It needs to encourage higher order thinking and collaboration. It needs to make use of the tools available. Otherwise, leave kids to be kids. Let them play, explore, challenge, discover and experiment – just like they would be doing if they didn’t have a pointless worksheet or Google task to waste their time.

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