Teach Your Kids To Search

Happy New Year! I hope yours was a good one. I spent mine camped out by a lake in the New Zealand high country. With no Internet access and lousy weather, most of my time was spent reading -- and in amongst novels like the incredibly entertaining Shantaram, I managed to devour Malcolm Gladwell's latest, Outliers: The Story of Success.

Yes, it's been out for over a year now; you've probably read it, formed your own opinion, and moved on. Will you take a moment to return to it with me? There's something really important in there, something that could be the single most important differentiator between success and failure. Gladwell describes a trait that distinguishes every entrepreneur I've ever known, with the good ones having the largest measure. Furthermore, it's a trait that can be acquired and cultivated by anyone, and which is phenomenally facilitated in our interconnected world. It is, quite simply, the ability, inclination and necessary discernment to figure things out.



As a case in point, he describes a video of Renee, a woman attempting to understand the concept of slope (the term that describes the angle of a line). She's figuring it out on her own, using a computer program that allows her to change the x and y variables:

Twenty-two minutes pass from the moment Renee begins playing with the computer program to the moment she says, "Ahhhh. That means something now." That's a long time. "This is eighth-grade mathematics," [researcher] Schoenfeld said. "If I put the average eighth grader in the same position as Renee, I'm guessing that after the first few attempts, they would have said, 'I don't get it. I need you to explain it.'"

It's certainly important to know when to ask for help, but the typical eighth grader described by Schoenfeld isn't just asking for help; he or she is giving up, making it the teacher's responsibility whether or not the student acquires that particular bit of knowledge. As a grown-up in the modern economy, though, the most powerful position is always, "Even if I don't know, I can figure it out, and if I ask you to help me it's because you can give me a shortcut, and if you can't I'll Google it or I'll go to the library or I'll take a course or I'll just sit here and think until I can find the answer."

Thanks to the Internet, Google, and the search industry at large, the current generation and those who come after are much more likely to have that mentality -- but all too often it starts and stops online. Last week, a New York Times article described the steps Google is taking to make it easier for kids to find what they're looking for. But kids need to exercise their search muscles. They need to know where to find additional sources of information and how to filter, analyze, and process content to arrive at thoughtful solutions rather than just, "I read it on the Internet." Most importantly, they need to learn to not give up if the answer isn't in the first ten links.

There's only one difference between you and the person who already knows the answer: time. If we teach our kids to search consciously and with awareness, time will not be a barrier for them. Instead, it will be a normal feature of their road to knowledge.

If, in 2010, I can help someone discover their own ability to figure things out, then I will consider it a successful year. What's your New Year's goal?

6 comments about "Teach Your Kids To Search".
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  1. Janel Laravie from Chacka Marketing, January 5, 2010 at 1:01 p.m.

    I really enjoyed reading this post. A terrific interpretation and recommendation to kick off the New Year!

  2. Jacqueline Amyot from Goodmind, January 5, 2010 at 1:20 p.m.

    I could have written these lines myself as this is literally how I work from day to day: "Even if I don't know, I can figure it out, and if I ask you to help me it's because you can give me a shortcut, and if you can't I'll Google it or I'll go to the library or I'll take a course or I'll just sit here and think until I can find the answer."

    So true and insightful! And I love your goal for 2010.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 5, 2010 at 3:56 p.m.

    "We have met the enemy and the enemy is us." Then again...sometimes.....

  4. Amanda Davie from Reform, January 6, 2010 at 6:47 a.m.

    Really interesting post, thanks, Kaila.

    How future generations learn to search and how search habits evolve over time will be dictated more by the search engines themselves. For example, there is quite a bit of 'push back' within the search industry in terms of personalised search i.e. Google trying to second guess what you want.

    My concern is that future search generations may be in danger of the search engines making it too easy to stray from the path they wish to dictate? To easy to challenge the search results, or to figure it out?

  5. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, January 6, 2010 at 1:24 p.m.

    Thanks for your great comments. Jacqueline, isn't that an EXCITING way to work? There's always a new discovery just around the corner. And Amanda, I think it's up to us -- adults, parents, teachers -- to help future generations understand that they shouldn't blindly take a search engine's first answer any more than they should unquestioningly listen to a doctor. The only way we can be accountable for our actions is to be willing to question the experts and be responsible for our own decisions.

  6. Mark Moran from Dulcinea Media, January 7, 2010 at 6:56 p.m.

    I think kids need to be taught to search from third grade on, with the expectation that they won't fully get it until they are in college. Until then, they should conduct exercises in finding and evaluating content that will lead them to an answer, but when it comes to researching on their own, they need to be given a list, or pool, of links to consider, just as the prior generation considered a limit list of pre-approved books in the library. We've created to fit this bill; I honestly believe it is the only search engine students can use to search effectively.

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