Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Outboard Brain at School

I still remember a time about 15-20 years ago, when I was a classroom teacher and there was a debate among science teachers about whether or not students should have to memorize anything from the periodic table. Should students memorize elements' symbols? Atomic mass? Atomic number? When I taught physical science about 15 years ago, I would have freshmen in my class who had to memorize the symbols, atomic number, and atomic mass of the first 40 elements of the periodic table. Then, I would think, WHY??'s such a waste of time and brain space!

My philosophy was for students to memorize the symbols of some of the common elements to be helpful when students were having to write formulas for compounds. If our goal is to prepare students for "real life," in real life they would be able to look on a chart or in a book to find the factual information they would need. 

Fast forward to today... students now carry around those "charts" and "books" in their hands. Students with smartphones have access to information that teachers have always provided and have tested students on their ability to memorize. With these tools, is it necessary anymore to have students memorize the presidents names in order? Or memorize the names and dates of the battles of the civil war? What about memorizing the formulas for physics class?

I recently attended the annual conference for the National Association of Secondary School Principals. One of the sessions was led by Scott Klososky, and international technology speaker and entrepreneur. Being a huge fan of technology and the potential to infuse it into education to enrich the learning for all, I was excited to hear and learn from him. 

Scott showed the following video, The Outboard Brain. David Bowden performs the spoken word poetry and the words reminded me of the debate I faced many years ago. There is a huge shift in how students access information today that wasn't around 15 years ago. They carry access in their hands, immediately available on demand. 

"The way we amass, access, and assess the information we process has changed."

Using "Outboard Brains" is a game-changer for education. Although I was a science teacher, I see application possibilities in subjects other than science. For example, instead of memorizing the names and dates of presidents (in order), students can use brain space for learning how those presidents impacted the country, culture, and world during his presidency as well as any lasting effects. Instead of using time at home to memorize, time can be spent researching, pondering, chatting, listening, etc. Instead of class time being used to test and quiz the students' abilities to memorize, time is used for debate, listening to other students' inputs, writing responses to thought-provoking questions, and more.

The brain can be used for creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration, moving up Bloom's taxonomy from lower-order thinking skills to higher-order thinking skills.

What are your thoughts on using the outboard brain to do our memorizing for us? How can we capitalize on this and deepen students' learning?

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