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A man. A plan. A canal. Panama. April 11, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in Teaching Idea, Tools.
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Oxford Canal

Cruising the Oxford Canal

Just back from a wonderful week away exploring the Oxford Canal by narrowboat where one evening the postprandial discourse (after dinner yackin’) turned to planning … just in general, not specifically about education. So given our situation, I dropped the titular palindrome into the conversation … to a stunned silence. My friends weren’t familiar with this well known example, though knew a few others like civic and kayak, yet weren’t aware of any longer ones. I asked, had they been given that as an exercise, how would they go about it and the immediate response was to ‘Google’ it. (We couldn’t actually do that because as ‘experienced‘ adults, none of us had an Internet enabled device to hand)

Given that the majority of the group were teachers (or had recently retired), I wondered whether they thought that would be a reasonable expectation of students in class i.e. having discussed what a palindrome was, using Google to find some examples. We were split, some thinking Google (or at least an Internet search) made sense whilst others were concerned that the shortcut route was detrimental, since an opportunity for students to exercise their thinking skills might be lost. But how easy is it to conjure a palindrome from scratch?

When we dug a little deeper, we thought that actually getting some quick examples by Internet search outweighed the apparent loss of demand in the task. In fact this largely trivial exercise could be then quickly followed up with more complex tasks like ‘find science-related palindromes’ (more complex searching required) and ‘find the palindrome in a jumbled set of letters.’ The final task might be to create a completely new palindromic word (phrase), making up its definition or meaning. Which moves us neatly up through to the higher levels of Bloom’s. Would we have been able to do that so rapidly without that brief kickstart provided by the Internet search? I suspect not.

My point was that ‘Googling’ has its place. It’s neither good nor bad, you just have to use it effectively by choosing the task wisely.