More on teaching kids to think – AKA CS concepts for looking things up

I talked about the need to teach thinking skills the other day. Yesterday I read Steve Dembo talking about much the same thing - teaching facts or teaching thinking.  

I'd like to add something else to that mix. One of my long time favorite sayings is that "life is an open-book test." I do believe that to be true. If it is though then the critical skill becomes knowing how to find things in the book. And perhaps knowing what books to look in. Steve talks about students using Google to find things out. Internet search engines are a great tool but my experience is that most people, including most students, do not know how to use them well. You should hear to things my wife the librarian tells me that students can't find anything about on the Internet on their own. I am also amazed at some of the searches in my referrer logs that show what searches brought people to my blogs or web site. Those searches show a lack of understanding of some thing that computers do well - Boolean algebra.

Search engines support AND, OR and NOT syntax. One can use + for AND and - for NOT and whether or not people realize it a lot of default searches involve OR. Some event support other advanced options like NEAR. We really should be teaching students how to use search engines well. In the old days, you remember them - we used books made of paper - we taught students to alphabetize and how to use that knowledge to look things up in indexes. And if you think about it a bit we taught them how to do a Boolean search as well. Remember that? It is still an important skill today. We do need to expand on it a bit though.

While I am bringing computer science/programming concepts into other areas let's not forget how much more valuable spreadsheets are if students understand decision structures (IF, VLookup, etc). Let's help kids get the most value out of their tools by teaching them how to use them in a thoughtful planned way. And if they discover that computer science is more relevant and useful than they thought along the way that works for me too.

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