Are We Really Teaching Them How To Fish (by Jennifer Wagner)

I believe that this thought rant began a few weeks ago when I received an email from a newsgroup that I belong to which basically said “Where can I find good science fair websites?” At first, I wanted to respond, but then something inside of me just knee-jerked and thought, “sighs, why don’t they look for themselves?”

Put that fester on the backburner until this last Friday when I received an email from a teacher that said “can you Google me some end of the year art projects?” and my response was “is your Google broken?” and the response back was “no, but your Google works much better than mine”.


And I wonder – and I ask you to wonder as well – is our Personal Learning Network (PLN) really teaching people to fish??

Personally, I think we are helping them to catch.

Many years ago, during the summer while in San Jose, CA, we went to an amusement park that had a “fishing pond” and my dad said I could fish. I was handed a rod and a cup of corn. I wandered over to the pond, baited my hook, and cast my line. And waited probably 3 minutes – no fish. Hmmm, recast – no fish. Waited a bit more – no fish. And with the frustration and misunderstanding that to fish always assured pulling in a fish – I decided to cast my line again, yet at the same time, throw in a handful of corn. And WALA – I caught a fish. (& probably ruined everyone else’s day because I was over-feeding all the fish.)

I didn’t learn how to fish – I learned how to catch.

Now, you might think “But Jen – that is what these teachers are doing – they are throwing out “a handful of corn” on twitter, plurk, facebook, email in order to catch something. This, in some ways, might be true. But they really are not learning they are just receiving.

If we really want them, educators and students as well, to learn to fish, we must step back and not hand feed them every time they say “help”. Sure, we need to be there to assist but not just provide them with quick responses so that they can move on with literally no effort on their part.

Cherie, a classroom teacher I know, has the opening page on the lab browsers set to the Google Advance search page. From day one, she taught her students how to use Google and how to use it powerfully – by setting up exacts (such as file type, dates, etc). And she is doing this with Kindergarteners through Sixth Grade. She is teaching them to fish.

Bud ( & Jon (, two educators, ask some of the best questions on twitter and invites conversation back. Sometimes just to be argumentative, sometimes to filter out thoughts, and sometimes just to jumpstart thinking. They are teaching others to fish.

Silvia, ( a global collaborative project host, has a project called “around the world in 80 schools” where she has created an environment where teachers use skype to connect with classrooms around the world. Though she has tutorials, she also is producing an environment of become pro-active on the part of the teachers which then cascades down to the students. She is helping teachers to fish and they, then, are teaching students to fish.

Palm Beach Café ( is a vodcast provided to the teachers at Palm Beach County, Florida but is also shared with everyone and anyone who wishes to learn. It is a 30 minute online training session on a variety of topics. They are teaching teachers to fish!!

In no way am I against helping teachers, but it seems that with all the tools available, it has become way too easy for a teacher/admin/staff/student to get quick answers without really taking the time to search for themselves.

And, I think, it might be time for us to stop giving answers so quickly and truly help them understand how to find answers on their own first.

Just my thoughts.
Always feel free to share yours

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