Is "Knowing Stuff" Obsolete - Introduction

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SWBAT debate an argument that is well supported by evidence.

Big Idea

Students debate to determine if the memorization of "Google-able" facts is obsolete in today's society.


10 minutes


Quite by accident I came across the podcast TED Radio Hour hosted by Guy Raz and it quickly became my "go to" media while I commute to work.  If you like TED Talks you will love this!  The host picks 4 or 5 TED Talks that fall under the same theme and mixes in clips from the talks with discussion from the speakers themselves.  I use the podcast app on my iphone but you can listen via the internet as well.

The other day, I was driving to work listening to the episode Unstoppable Learning, specifically the first portion involving Sugata Mitra discussing the question on how much children can teach themselves. This talk is based on experiments he conducted with putting computers into the poorest places in India and watching how much the children could do with no outside instruction (it is amazing, it makes one reassess how we approach education!).  

At the end of this segment, Sugata poses a question, "Is "knowing" obsolete?" (This refers to the memorization of facts so common in schools - multiplication facts, cell division steps, presidents...). This made me think of my gifted class and the conversations I keep hearing them have about their history class -- (insert whiny voices filled with teenage drama here) "Why do we need to know about all of these dead people? How is any of this going to affect my life?"  This made them, in my opinion, the perfect students with which to discuss this question of obsolescence.


To begin the lesson I write the question, "Is "knowing" obsolete?" on the white board and just stare at them for a minute. Eventually someone will ask what obsolete means and someone will want to know what I mean by knowing and that is when I know I have their attention. At that point I explain the quick version of the TED Radio Hour episode. I have each student write down their answer to the question, "Is "knowing" obsolete?" being sure to state the reason behind their answer. Once all students have their individual answer recorded we do a whip around to share. The whip around strategy requires each student to quickly read aloud exactly what they have written on their paper one after another with no time given to discuss or question.  This allows everyone to know how everyone else answered the question.

I was surprised by the results as my class was split almost down the middle with 15 students feeling knowing is not obsolete and 11 claiming that it is.  These results led to the next part of the lesson.


30 minutes

I have the students move to opposite sides of the room based on their personal response.  Once in their new groups, students work to organize their responses to create an outline of their position that includes a strong summary statement of their position and the top supporting arguments using the Is Knowing Obsolete Summary Statements to organize their work.  Students are also asked to select 2 students that will serve as the speakers for a debate that will take place the next day.

It becomes important to monitor these discussion groups, especially within a gifted class, as it becomes obvious that the stronger personalities start to dominate the discussion.  I keep reminding the students that they are one group that must speak with one voice and that they must include all perspectives and that if they are on the same side of the issue they should not be arguing with each other.  If needed, I have those students that take over the group sit off to the side for a few minutes and just listen to what the others are saying. 


5 minutes

Prior to leaving the class, I have students on both sides clearly define their interpretation of "knowing" (things we can look up on Google) and review their arguments to ensure they align with this definition.

The following video has the lead speakers of each side stating their group's position.