If Siri Knows, Should We?

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As my 12 year-old daughter worked on her homework, she asked me how many pints are in a gallon. As I slowly turned to answer her, trying to frantically conjure up/calculate the answer, I was surprised (and relieved) to hear an all-too-familiar beep, followed by Siri saying, “How can I help you?” My daughter proceeded to ask Siri the number of pints in a gallon and she instantly received the answer. Without hesitation, she proceeded to use the information she had acquired to solve a complex mathematical problem requiring multiple steps and calculations.

As I witnessed this episode, a series of reflections raced through my mind:

The practical side of me was elated that my smartphone & Siri beat me to the answer, unknowingly protecting my pride.

The digital immigrant inside of me was disgruntled that my digital-native daughter instantly knew the best resource to use to find the answer to her question. (Obviously, I was the clear loser.) However, I was amazed at her calm resourcefulness. She didn’t skip a beat to reach for the smartphone and instantly access the needed information in order to focus her efforts on complex thinking and reasoning.

The parent in me was left wondering, shouldn’t she know that basic fact? Shouldn’t I know that basic fact?

Finally, the educator inside of me was ecstatic!!!! At that moment, a realization rushed through me. My 12 year-old daughter is experiencing 21st century learning where memorizing basic facts is insignificant; knowing how to access basic information quickly is the standard; and knowing what to do with basic knowledge in order to solve complex problems is PARAMOUNT!!!!

I then found myself wondering how she would have discovered the needed information if she was solving that problem in the classroom and reflected on the implications this short series of events should have on the learning environment that we provide for children within a school setting:

Inside the school setting, do we honor the use of technology in the same way that we do outside of school?

Inside the school setting, do we create risk-free environments that allow students to access the efficient tools and resources that they are surrounded with outside of school?

Inside the school setting, do we value the ease with which basic knowledge can be accessed so that student thinking can be used in purposeful and productive ways to solve real-world, complex problems across a variety of contexts?

My hope is that all educators would answer each of these questions with a resounding ‘yes!’ My fear is, most of us would be forced to respond with a humble ‘no’ to some or all.

Would I like to say that my 12 year old independently knew how many pints are in a gallon? Yes. But does it really matter if she knows how to find that information and what to do with it once she figures it out? No! That’s why we have Siri!

7 responses »

  1. That is awesome.. And so resourceful! Too bad smartphones aren’t permitted on the STAAR test!!
    That sweet girl of yours will keep you on your technology toes!!

  2. “Finally, the educator inside of me was ecstatic!!!! At that moment, a realization rushed through me. My 12 year-old daughter is experiencing 21st century learning where memorizing basic facts is insignificant; knowing how to access basic information quickly is the standard; and knowing what to do with basic knowledge in order to solve complex problems is PARAMOUNT!!!!”

    Exactly! Although as a math educator, I still feel basic facts are to be memorized. Is that ironic?!?

    • No, it’s not ironic. I feel the same way. Some things should be memorized. However, that’s not the most important part of learning in today’s world. It is important to know basic facts but it’s equally important for students to know how utilize resources to access information that they can’t recall from memory without stifling the problem-solving process. We are in an era when using technology is the way of life for our kids. They naturally turn to it when they have the opportunity.

  3. Oops. Just realized my comment didn’t make much sense since I also used “basic facts.” I mean your basic math facts, specifically multiplication through 12s.

    • I completely agree that basic math facts are important for students to learn. When they take ownership in learning them because they realize that they are a tool to help them in the problem-solving process they are more likely to learn them. I remember having to memorize them just for the sake of memorizing them–or at least that was my perception.

  4. I love the Siri connection! I have referred to this in the past as “google-able information” when working with pre-service teachers. If our question can be answered by Google, it’s not likely a question we should be asking 🙂 I’ll be updated my analogy with the Siri reference! Thanks for a great post Micheal!

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