Asking Google what we wonder

by Mr. Sheehy

It’s time to write research papers.

Thinking I could ignite curiosity by giving students time to look around the Internet while thinking of topics, and thinking I could direct them towards better research by asking them to develop a list of questions instead of a list of generic topics, I took my sophomores to the computer lab and asked them to write a list of 20 “How come?” questions.

I wrote a list of my own along with them, samples include

  • How come Alexander Hamilton was so powerful and well supported?
  • How come France sold the Louisiana Territory for so little money?
  • How come Venice has waterways for streets?
  • How come the Eiffel Tower became the symbol for Paris?
  • How come school has 12 grades?
  • How come professional athletes make sooo much money?

The questions could be things they knew part of the answer to but wanted to examine more, which is the case for most of my questions. I encouraged them to think of anything interesting from another class, or anything intriguing they’d seen on TV, or anything.

What very many did in response was head straight to Google and type in “How come” and wait for Google to fill in the field. Thus, “How come Michael Jackson is white?” appeared on many papers, and I was embarrassed to see the other things that students saw when they entered the phrase. Other students completed actual searches with that phrase, and the top hit contains a question I saw on at least five papers: “How come yelling on a mountain can start an avalanche?”

Other students couldn’t resist the one-liner pages: “How come Kamikaze pilots wear a helmet?”

I had decided a while ago that curiosity was a problem with my students, but it’s obvious from this assignment that I don’t know how to foster it. Ultimately I asked them, “What are you curious about?” and their response was to turn to Google and ask it, “What am I curious about?” The answer unfortunately appears to be “Very little.”

If education is a journey, the road is uphill.

Thanks for reading.