Research at UCLA shows that
the digital generation has different
neural networks designed for rapid
cybersearching. But educators need
to ensure that this modified brain still
has the capacity to understand the
relevance and significance of the retrieved data.
Calculators, for example, represent
the epitome of “knowledge at your
fingertips.” Yet allowing students to use
calculators instead of learning basic
mathematical facts has created a generation that lacks the ability to estimate
the reasonableness of their answers.
As a teacher of both technology and
algebra, I have observed that students
who fail to memorize multiplication
facts are at a disadvantage. Some students grasp only the “possible” answer
with the calculator, whereas others
are able to grasp the entire concept
because they can call upon their store
of mathematical knowledge. Students
To develop critical-thinking skills, students must have a base of adequate
knowledge so they can properly interpret and filter content.
who are factoring, for example, need
to realize that the numbers 11 and 28
have something in common: One represents the sum of the numbers 7 and
4, and the other represents the product
of those same numbers. Students who
lack this factual knowledge because
they have learned to rely on technology fail to make that association.
As educators, we should help students develop a “road map” of factual knowledge upon which they can
build their critical-thinking skills. To
develop these skills, students must
have a base of adequate knowledge so
they can properly interpret and filter
content. Critical thinking and higher-order thinking skills are like the destinations on the map, with stops along
the way to acquire the requisite factual
Mere access to a plethora of knowledge in this digital age does not
ensure that students will have any
understanding of the relevance of the
material. Students need to develop the
associations between various facts.
They need to develop a complex neural network that allows them to filter,
assess, and associate material. Knowing how to access knowledge using
technology is a worthy skill, but having the ability to access a reservoir of
factual knowledge provides an invaluable resource for students as they map
Robert E. Mahoney, a math and technology
teacher at Dallas High School in Oregon, is also
an adjunct instructor at Western Oregon University, where he received his MSEd in information
technology while researching developmentally
appropriate technology acquisition.
environment, activity, and mental
stimulation, the brain can continue
making pathways throughout life
Research White Paper.pdf). So we
should also model active thinking
and learning to help our students
develop a lifelong habit of learning
that keeps their brains agile.
If we rely on memorization strategies, we are reinforcing only short-term storage of pathways. This leads
to disconnects between messages,
images, and memory recollection.
I vividly recall memorizing every
multiplication combination between
1 and 12. Yet when I needed a number, I often mentally calculated from
another number. What if, instead of
simply memorizing facts, students
played mental games of building tables by adding numbers cumulatively?
By doing this, they would create an
analytical framework to understand
the numbers. Because brains use neu-
If we rely on memorization strategies, we are reinforcing only short-term
storage of pathways. This leads to disconnects between messages,
images, and memory recollection.
rons to create or reinforce long-term
storage of pathways, the memorization would still occur as a byproduct
of the analytical process.
Whether to memorize or not is not
related to today’s digital availability of
data. Everything that resides online is
a result of human effort to collect,
organize, and interpret information.
Even when reference materials were
available only in print, students could
retrieve information, albeit more
slowly, and did not have to keep it all
in their brains. What has changed is
that we can now perform research
with much more accuracy and speed
to understand a problem, such as how
humans learn. Then we can take that
research to the next level through
analysis, deduction, and further
If our students learn to find, organize, and analyze information, they
will continually challenge their brains
and reinforce their neuron pathways.
Their long-term memory storage will
work more efficiently, and memorization will occur because they will be
thinking about information rather
than storing data. And when they
become tomorrow’s managers and
workers, they will be equipped to
make informed decisions based on
analysis of a situation and its ramifications rather than off-the-cuff decisions
based on whatever data is thrown in
front of them.
Carmela Curatola Knowles is an elementary
technology teacher for the Hatboro-Horsham
School District in Pennsylvania, an instructional technology specialist, and a Pennsylvania