Googleable vs Non-Googleable Questions

'Essential questions' are all too often lower order. And not that essential.

When we're working with schools on our Design Thinking School programme, one of the easiest ways to explain what we're looking for in the way a project is set, is whether the statement or questions being asked can be Googled easily: is this a Googleable or Not Googleable topic?

The Why

Every topic, every bit of learning has content that can be Googled, and we don't want teachers wasting precious enquiry time lecturing that content. We want students, instead, to be using class time to collaborate and debate around the questions that are Not Googleable, the rich higher order thinking to which neither the textbook nor the teacher know the answers. And, where we do have "Googleable facts" for students to learn, the snap-decision shouldn't always be to 'teach' it. Auditory explanation alone (i.e. the teacher speaking) is only one tactic that is ineffective on its own in helping students internalise knowledge, as shown in experiments such as the Harvard "Private Universe" project, for example.

The Experiment

One of our schools in Brisbane, Star of the Sea Cleveland (@SOTSCleveland on Twitter), took our notion of "Googleable" / "Not Googleable" to a very literal end, when they pinned up two headings and got students to post-it each and every question in the class, categorising those which could be searched quickly (the lower order questions) and those which they should dwell on in class time.

This is the kind of meaty discussion that we want in class, and making it explicit in this way means that we cut to the higher order thinking so much quicker.

Your next steps

  • Provide your class with an initial piece of inspiration - a TED Talk, some objects, a provocative discussion
  • Give students plenty of post-it notes to write one question per post-it in a short period of time - maybe 10-20 minutes.
  • Ask students to post their questions onto a window or wall, under two headings: Googleable and NonGoogleable
  • Discussing what might constitute a NonGoogleable question to get some more
  • Share out the Googleable questions for independent research
  • Give time for students to present their answers to the Googleable questions to each other: students as teachers
  • Explore the rich NonGoogleable questions as the basis of a rich project
  • Tom Barrett has shared some longer-form ideas on protecting the curiosity of our learners in his book, Can Computers Keep Secrets

Stephanie Cerda picked up on Ungoogleable questioning in a NoTosh keynote, and transformed her classroom practice.

Ewan McIntosh
March 05, 2013