Midway through a unit of study on rainforests, my daughter was given an assignment to find out what side a farmer would take on deforestation. That night, I was feverishly catching up on emails, twitter and facebook when I saw Michaela (MT) peering at me through the glass doors, with the confidence to tell me to get off the computer because she had homework that needed to be done online.
Momentarily, her step-dad, my very own Mike Brady (MB), began a long, drawn-out Socratic session on what her assignment really entailed.
What is the question that you are being asked to answer?
Did your teacher specifically say that you needed to use the computer?
After Michaela fessed up that she wasn’t really asked to “Google It“, but rather come prepared to discuss her position on deforestation as a farmer, the air was cleared. I had infinite time to stay glued to the computer and Michaela got to enlist in a very productive session of Critical Thinking 101. Children tend to jump for the computer before thinking about what they already know and what they need the computer for.
MB: So, Michaela, what do you know about farmers?
MT: Well, they grow things for a living.
MB: Ok. And what resources do they need to farm?
MT: Hmmm. Machines or people. And water. And land.
MB: Right. Now, can farmers grow crops in a rain forest?
MB: Really? Don’t your typical food-producing crops need lots of sunlight?
MT: You’re right. And they wouldn’t want so many animals living amongst their crops.
MB: Getting closer. And, if you were a farmer, would you sell your crops to endangered monkeys and rare birds?
MT: No. I would want to farm near where people live and buy food. The rain forests would be in the way. I would need to cut down the trees to grow my crops and for roads to be built to connect me to my buyers. Now I know what side I need to take.
MB: Please go check online to see if you are right. And remember to think about what your opponents will say during your discussion tomorrow. Can you Google: poor farmer rainforest -save -donate?
At that instance, I realized the value of using the internet as a forum for sharing information, learning, and researching. But I realized that parents and teachers can help build critical thinking skills through conversation and asking questions to lead children to the place they need to be BEFORE they google. Had Michaela searched “rainforests” only, she would have reveled in opportunities to donate money, read sad stories and inspect every species of beetle known to mine the soil. By conversing about her search goal and practicing patience, all were happy. And Mr. Brady took the trophy for most patient.
To learn more about how Google is supporting young internet surfers, read this New York Times article dated December 25th, 2009. “Helping Children Find What They Need on the Internet”.
If your child is studying the rain forests, read my previous post on The Prince’s Rainforest Project.