Tuesday, April 24, 2007

To Memorize or Not to Memorize

The spelling list for my fifth grade students for the last couple of weeks has been the states and their capitals. I have asked them to not only spell them correctly but be able to memorize each capital as well.

As a final test my students are ready to fill in a blank map of the United States and label all states and their capitals, and yes spelling does count. This is all done from memorization.

After reflecting a bit on this activity I was wondering how important it is to memorize all the states locations and their capitals. I mean if you ask any student where Wyoming is or its capital they will simply "Google it."

The information can be obtained quickly and effortlessly. So why am I spending time having my students memorize this "fingertip knowledge?"

Interestingly enough, I read an article by Elliot Masie about this very same thing. I then searched out his blog and found that he had an entry on September 18, 2006 about "fingertip knowledge" and discussed the idea of memorization and the lack there of in today's world.

For instance, how many phone numbers have you memorized now that our cell phones are with us virtually 24 hours a day? Can you identify the location of each of our states? Do you know all the capitals? Test yourself at this site.

So where do we draw the line? Personally I think that yes, students should still have the opportunity to memorize certain aspects of today's learning. The time should certainly be balanced with explicit instruction on showing students "how" to find information or more importantly figure out if it is "valid." The Web 2.0 definitely offers students the opportunity to delve into the upper echelon of Bloom's Taxonomy but I think there is something to be said about balancing the old with the new.

I would love to hear your ideas about the idea of having students memorize certain bits of fingertip knowledge.


  1. I think we have to have balance in everything. I want my kids to know how to find and evaluate information but I also want them to be able to take a certain amount of that information and make it their own. I always think what if and I'm kind of an Eeyore. What if the world changed to the point that we couldn't all access that information that we now take for granted. Would our kids be able to wing it? Would they be able to figure out how to do things without benefit of a computer. I am addicted to the things myself and I hope that all this Flat World stuff brings us all closer together and more able to solve the big problems that this world faces but I like to hedge my bets and I know that what I carry in my head won't go away if the power goes off. I can still read a book by sunlight, and while I can listen to music on my computer and even create it - the creativity doesn't actually exist in the machine just as music doesn't exist in a violin. I think without teaching kids to stretch their minds (and their legs every now and then) we are misusing the tools. Sooo..go ahead - let them do a little memorization. Couldn't hoit!

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  3. I think memorizing the 50 States and capitals is a good thing. However, it is a challenge for me to memorize dry facts. So I created a bunch of funny picture associations that help me and they are very popular with visual (right brained) learners.

    Check it out at:

    All the best,