Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On the Deeper Connections Built Into Throw-Away Questions

So the Tweet goes...
Latin Students: How many museums can you find on Twitter? +10 pt coupon to anybody who Tweets 20 museums with collections in Ancient Art!
A throw-away question like this -- casually posted after school -- can create so much opportunity, so much grist for the next day's classroom discussion, such a great compilation of resources to be bookmarked up on Delicious, so much potential for future investigation.

I call it a throw-away question because in-and-of-itself, it's just a simple question of the first type Bloom recognized.

But we're living in a world where even throw-away questions can produce stunning by-products.

For we are living in an age in which questions themselves -- questions of all varieties and supposed levels -- are capable of tapping into links far beyond whatever our initial thought or intention of the question originally was.

Certainly, this has long been the case with questions. But now, a simple question like "How Many?" Produces results like "I didn't know they had Twitter in Italy!" and "Why do all these museums need to be on Twitter?" and "Do they have Greek Art in museums in China?" and -- one of my favorites -- "How did you know about all of this stuff before the Internet?"

The kids are ready for the Network.

That is, of course, if you've prepped 'em to use social media effectively.

The best way to do that is to make social media -- and the whole instant global connected network itself -- a regular and ordinary part of your classroom environment.

Students don't need you lecture them on how to use it; they just need to see you use it.

They'll pick it up.

Especially if they get to see immediate benefits. Like when you let them use Twitter as a lifeline to their classmates on a test. Or when you let them access Delicious during an in class essay.

Or when you let a throw-away question veer off into the philosophical.

Your use of social media doesn't have to be flashy to produce good results. There was nothing flashy about Socrates.

Sometimes the simplicity of asking students to Tweet a list of resources is not only enough to fill several days' worth of classroom conversation and 'homework browsing', but it's also an investment in the future connection your kids are making with social media and networked learning itself.

It's the difference between a throw-away question (i.e. 'I wonder how many museums are on Twitter?') and a deeper connection.


  1. Keep it simple .... :-) I think that's key, to show the way rather than tell. Same goes with helping adult learners embrace new ways and tools. Live by example is key. However, I think it's important to help guide activities to go deeper. Kids often on their own use tools in shallow more social ways and a teacher / parent guide is an important "friend" to support the learning. I will share your post with some principals I'm working with on their adoption and purpose for these new social tools. Thanks.

  2. My friends and I love "Would you rather?" questions for this: you get to dig as deep as you want. When something clicks, we can have a 30 minute discussion over one question, balancing the two choices, branching into philosophy and politics and relationships. It's because the questions start simple and because we're interested that we can build whatever complex framework we want.

  3. I just had s series of heart palpatations as I sined on for the first time to follow this blog. You see, I am a frightened 50 year old educator who knows that I need to get into it and just do it, but the fear of not knowing is paralysing. I always knew more than my students, I understood the delivery method and I could predict what I might get back, I was an innovative educator, but this not-so-new world of twitter and tweet, delicious and blogging is a forgien form of communication. Keep writng the HOW part for people like me and we'll get there. I do agree with Brian above about the need to push our kids to go deeper. They seem to have the surface stuff completely under their control.


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