Google Tells Students to: "Major in Learning"

Wow!  On Google's blog this week, they write a post to students entitled  “Our Googley advice to Students: Major in Learning” (hat tip to Dan Pink) in which they say:

“At the highest level, we are looking for non-routine problem-solving skills. We expect applicants to be able to solve routine problems as a matter of course. After all, that's what most education is concerned with. But the non-routine problems offer the opportunity to create competitive advantage, and solving those problems requires creative thought and tenacity.”

 I like the creative thought and tenacity part.  So very often I push my students to solve a problem and WILL NOT tell them the answer.  I give them the next step, but what am I honestly teaching them if I go and fix it for them.  
Just yesterday, I had a student who was creating a video in Animoto for her summer project (no I didn't assign that level of assignment, she took it up to that level because she “wanted to”) and was having trouble getting it into the Ning uploader. (It is on our private class Ning, cannot share that one.)

We texted each other and talked a few times until it was solved. (She finally just embedded it as a blog post.) 

In this case, I could have said, “just post the link and I'll grade it that way.”  But no, the assignment was that it HAD to be on the Ning.  I have to have everything in one place for a variety of reasons, at least to encourage peer review.

I gave a very general assignment to create a blog post, podcast, movie, or multimedia artifact of your choice about a new technology that you have discovered this summer.  She determined what she would do.

Move away from Point and Click Teaching
I'm finishing up a book that I hope to be out in August about just this very thing:  how to teach students HOW TO LEARN new software. 

Point and click teaching has to go the way of the dodo bird, but we need a model to follow, so I'm sharing this one. (I plan to share a lot of it here when it is finished.)

So, do your students major in learning?  Do you point them in the right direction but teach them problem solving skills? 

AND — do they have the TENACITY to continue.

This persistence and willingness to work very very hard is something that many are lacking.  You can have an engaging classroom that is also a challenging classroom.

Engagement and Web 2.0 tools are not synonymous with “easy” — not by a long shot.  In fact, for the best teachers their classes are engaging and “tough” as the students say.

What are the other characteristics Google wants in these “non routine savants”?

  • analytical reasoning
  • communication skills
  • a willingness to experiment (my interpretation — they are a researcher)
  • team players
  • passion and leadership

To me, this is the sort of thing the Flat Classroom project, Horizon Project, and Digiteen projects inspire.

What do you think?  What does Major in Learning look like?

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Mr. Kimmi July 17, 2008 - 5:57 pm

Intersting post. For me, majoring in learning is as simple as continuing to think beyond the lesson. To walk down the hallway and notice how the light through the window fall on the floor to form a parallelogram. It means that when you come back to school the next day you say, I figured out where I was wrong.

Not helping students figure things out is hard and it takes time. We are all used to getting the help we need when we need it, for th emost part. We have to expect a learning curve as we progress towards, you figure it out mentality.

This also flows into the idea of no longer being a teacher, but a lead learner. Once we can all wrap our heads around this and start realizing there are many solutions and we are each only privy to a few, things will get better. Look at help forums, is there ever just one way to solve a problem, or do you just stop at the first one?

autismfamily July 17, 2008 - 6:05 pm

I read that blog yesterday. On the way to take kids to camp I heard on radio that 25% of high school students in CA drop out and the rate for LA is 30%.

I will be interested in reading your book, is it geared to all kids or specific age groups, etc.? July 17, 2008 - 8:02 pm

Coolcatteacher – being able to solve problems using the tools available is indeed the essence of “good” education. It is amazing to read the case study you present. Well done, I will encourage teachers I am teaching to read and respond to this post in our discussions.

Carol Broos July 17, 2008 - 6:14 pm

I totally agree with the “point and click” teaching should be gone. We are installing promethean boards in many classrooms next year, my fear is that teachers will continue to stand in front of the class and not allow students to “do work.” That is all they want to do is work. If you allow them to work, the projects you will get will blow you away. They can figure out the programs themselves, they really don’t need us to show them the way. What they need is someone to interact with their projects and we should inspire the learning process.

debrennersmith July 18, 2008 - 3:52 am

My son, a high schooler, learns so much at home. He loves learning. He dislikes school. There is a disconnect because he does not realize learning and school could be connected. Computers at school is repeating what he already knows. Math is repeating what he did three years ago at home. He loves learning, cannot tie him down. As a teacher, I value the learning and teaching that happens in schools between teachers and schools and students. How can ensure this disconnect does not happen??

etalbert July 18, 2008 - 4:46 am

Hi there,

Another great post in response to some more powerful google ideas.

“point and click” is at least a small step up from “chalk and talk”.

I liked the observation of a previous comment about teachers using IWBs and still not changing teaching practice.

Scary isn’t it?


tasteach July 18, 2008 - 6:45 am

Some students are prepared to “have-a-go” without teacher help. I mentioned one afternoon, we were going to look at creating toondoo comics the next day. Before we got to the lab, one student had already embedded two comic strips in his blog that previous night and was there to help other students during the lesson.

Some though still haven’t got their comic done because “it won’t let me in” or “I didn’t know how to make them”.

Anne July 18, 2008 - 1:09 pm

I agree very much with all said. IMHO the challenge for us as teachers is about how skilled are as educators to design curriculum that asks questions that are open ended and authentic and that drive more questions than answers. The tenacity that you talk about comes from passion. I think this is a real challenge and if we are realistic is rare. But having said that I think we who are passionate ourselves about teaching and learning know what tenacity feels like so we search for others who feel it and we wish for it in our students. The challenge is how we teach it. So I’m looking forward to your book.

Pauline Soulliere July 18, 2008 - 9:49 pm

I am still reading all the material, articles on your blog, I’m amazed and will book mark this site for further reading. Keep it up teach, you’re doing such a fantastic job. Education is number 1.

Kyle Brumbaugh July 20, 2008 - 6:11 pm


If you get advance copies of the book out, please let me know. I remember the discussion we had on the bus at GTA about it and I want to be one of the first to read it. I am moving to a new school, that has a ‘computer applications’ class and I want to get them to look at things using a different paradigm. I think your book would save tons of time that could be use to teach other pieces of the Information Literacy and Digital Citizenship pieces that need to be taught.

Wendi July 21, 2008 - 5:41 am

Wow! I am fairly new to the technology I am reading about and anxious to learn. It seems the tenacity must come from the teachers and the learners! Perhaps learning from example could be applied here!

Learning Blog July 21, 2008 - 6:13 pm

I have enjoyed reading your posts…I recently learned about animoto so it was neat to see you mention that!

Corey Smith August 3, 2008 - 4:37 am

Not being a professional educator, the last thing I would comment on is “how” a major in learning would be structured. But as a hiring IT manager serving on school advisory boards I just can’t pass on the opportunity to to express a few thoughts on “what” a major in learning should cover. At my Advisory Bored blog I suggested three critical things that a major in learning should know:

1. school is a subset of learning
2. knowledge has a shelf life
3. you can’t get things right without getting some things wrong first.

The comments in Google’s blog post are as applicable to my four-person application development team at a mid-size city as they are at Google. It’s very encouraging that there are teachers out there thinking about how to implement a major in learning.

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