Never memorise something that you can look up

I can recall my early years of primary school when I was tested weekly on a long list of words to be learned by rote and the struggles I had with memorising the times tables. Luckily the words came easily to me but the challenges I had in mastering those tables! The whole family had to get involved – Mum, Dad, Big Brother and me – all desperately trying to lock them in my brain. In desperation my Dad used to play games of Tribulation with me, all to no avail… I still struggle with remembering my times tables but you
should see how quick I am on a calculator!

Albert Einstein wisely said, “Never memorise something you can look up.” Great news for me with learning the times tables but how does this statement impact on the classrooms of today? With the advent of Google and the explosion of information available to our students what do the words of Albert Einstein mean for teachers of today?

The answer seems quite simple. The goal of our classrooms is not to learn information by rote but to learn how to learn. Our task as educators is to equip students with the ability to seek, find, evaluate and understand information. No longer do our students need to memorise the capital cities of the world, they need to know how to find that information and more importantly still, they need to know how to work out whether the information they have found is reliable and accurate.

 Mary Ann Fitzgerald, Assistant Professor at the University of Georgia writes, “In today’s world of rapidly proliferating information in new electronic forms, individuals must be ready to make decisions about information reliability and credibility.” This level of evaluation is a complex concept and one which needs to be actively taught in all classrooms. In order for our students to function as literate and informed people we need to provide them with the skills needed to synthesis and evaluate information that is
presented to them at high speed.

 The new Australian Curriculum has listed critical and creative thinking as one of the
general capabilities for students. The rationale is that these skills are fundamental
for students in order for them to develop effective thinking and a range of strategies that will enable them to manage their own learning in time. The aim is to create confident and autonomous learners and thinkers in response to a society which demands “anywhere, anytime, ubiquitous learning and problem solving.” (ACARA, 2011)

It will be interesting to see the impact of the move to embrace inquiry-based and “big idea” thinking through the Australian Curriculum. Will children all over the country still be
sent home armed with the task of memorising the basics – capital cities, spelling words for the week, times tables? I dare say so for there is something quite handy about being able to calculate how much 2kg of apples at $4 per kilo will cost me without having to get out my iPhone calculator in the middle of the supermarket. When all is said and done, I am glad we spent all those nights playing Tribulation as a family. Even though I constantly questioned why I couldn’t just use a calculator instead!


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