Knowing When To “Step Away From The Computer”

Tonight, my step-dad shared with me an article in Friday’s Globe and Mail called Step Away From The Computer. In this article, the Education Reporter, Katie Hammer (@katiehammer), writes about a Grade 6 teacher at a school in Waterloo, assigning a homework project where the students needed to answer 100 various questions without using the Internet. The intended purpose was to help develop critical thinking skills, as students looked beyond Google to answer questions. The premise is a good one, but I can’t help but wonder about the activity.

Yes, I’m a teacher that sees the value of using technology in the classroom with my students. I’m the teacher that goes to almost all of my meetings with a device, but can rarely find a pencil or pen. I don’t think that the Internet is a bad thing, and I think that it has many benefits for students. All of that being said, my concerns with this article really have nothing to do with using or not using the Internet. My biggest concern stems from the assignment itself.

What expectations were assessed by this activity? The student profiled in this article was able to answer 99/100 of the questions, but my question would be, so what? What does this mark mean? How does this assignment help teach critical thinking skills? If our goal as teachers is to help create self-directed, autonomous learners, how does this activity help us do so? This article left me with a lot of questions, and I hope that the teacher profiled in this article reads my blog post and can give some more insight into this activity.

I actually agree with this teacher that we need to encourage students to use resources beyond the Internet. Knowing when to use these different resources though and how to interpret the information in them are the skills that we need students to develop, and did this activity allow this to happen?

When I read this post, I thought about my first Social Studies assignment this year. The students are learning about First Nations peoples and European Explorers. I used an idea from Heidi Siwak (@heidisiwak), and gave a prior knowledge assessment before starting the unit. After the students answered the questions and shared what they knew, they had to get a different coloured pen, and use the resources in the classroom to find out the answers that they didn’t know. They could also add to their previous answers. They were able to work alone or with a partner. They could use the Internet, various resource books, and textbooks as well. While many students initially went for Google, as they started researching online, they noticed the lack of accurate resources to answer their questions. Eventually they started combining these online resources with the textbooks, and then engaging in discussions to add in their own ideas. From this activity, students learned about the importance of using different tools to meet different needs, but without me explicitly limiting their options.

Instead of, stepping away from the computer, I think it’s about, knowing when to step away from the computerWhat do you think?


2 thoughts on “Knowing When To “Step Away From The Computer”

  1. I’ve been following the conversation since reading about the assignment and have some thoughts on the topic. While I believe it’s important that students develop a variety of sources for finding information I believe that it’s more important that they learn how to look at any source of information with a critical eye. The assignment would have been more valuable had there been some context and connection for the items on the list. The students would have benefited from comparing and analyzing the information acquired from the sources they used. The assignment seemed to be a lot of work to make a very simple point.

    • Thanks for the comment, Carol! I absolutely agree. The assignment as you describe it would have helped develop critical thinking skills, which I think was the intended result of this initial assignment. I’m just wondering if there may have been more to this teacher’s assignment than what was highlighted in the article. It’s hard to know.


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