School and the Cybermind
Daniel Wegner and some associates at Harvard conducted and documented some fascinating work on expanded uses of web and other tech resources and tools. Some of the salient points I learned from their work:
1. True-we do tend to not commit to memory some of the memory-based facts when we know that there is easy access to the same (and oft times trivial) facts.
2. Due to the notion of the transactive memory we have the ability to expand our own minds in a different sort of way. Turns out “each time we learn who knows something or where we can find the information-without learning what the information itself might be-we are expanding our mental reach.”
3. Further development of our school-age students in how to better use their transactive memory, we can better teach them to work in groups, solve problems together, and take better advantage of the group mind.
4. Wegner also reveals that effective “groups of people commonly depend on one another for memory in this [transactive] way-not by all knowing the same thing, but by specializing”. Wegner went on to say:
“[a]nd now we’ve added our computing devices to the network, depending for memory not just on people but on a cloud of linked people and specialized information-filled devices.”
Now certainly I am not advocating abandonment of all things committed to memory. Certainly there is great mental development and cognitive capacity building associated with memorization. We should be careful however with what we ask children to commit to memory. Here are some I think children must commit to memory:
2. Multiplication tables (yes even the nines)
3. The U.S. presidents (in order) as a marker for other U.S. and modern world history
4. Certain musical passages and whole compositions
5. Favorite poems, sonnets, and quotes
Where is your head on this? Ideology is one thing. Doing things with real purpose is quite another. Maybe this is yet another reason why the Common Core Standards wizards are advocating so much more in the way of project-based learning, learning to defend a position, learning Algebra-ready skills before completing 7th grade.
High performing educators know that freeing up time and sometimes brainpower for their students to use the time and brainpower for a higher purpose can pay big academic dividends.