Some years ago I gave a presentation at a technology conference entitled ‘The Information Packrat Syndrome". This presentation dealt with the many misuses and abuses of technology with students, particularly, particularly activities which involve gathering data for no apparent reason.
Here’s an especially egregious example, one I’m guilty of using with my students. Each child is given a state, and is asked to put together a five-screen PowerPoint presentation. One slide shows an outline map of the state, the next shows the state symbols (tree, bird, body part, etc.), the next shows the state demographics (population, etc.), and so forth. If your objective is to just show that students can find information, Great! However, the problem is that there is no mental processing taking place here. Students are collecting data for the sake of collecting data. A much more appropriate activity would have students analyzing what they have found to list the top five producers of tomato products and to attempt to explain why those states in particular produce so much of that vegetable. Another might be to have the students create a PowerPoint presentation that tells which state they would most like to live in, and to justify their position with evidence. That’s a much better exercise than even the sometimes mind-numbing "Where in the Hell is Carmen Sandiego" software.
So, just barely in time for Thanksgiving, I give you one of my activities – one that I happily "harvested" from someone else at some other conference. Mayflower by the Numbers is quite simple, and features a spreadsheet listing of the Mayflower Passengers with their dates of birth and dates of death. That’s all. From that tiny starting point, the students take part in an analytical adventure that involves the creation of spreadsheet formulas, prediction of outcomes, and research using Caleb Johnson’s wonderful Mayflower History website. Ok, that’s a bit of agrandizement, but it is a good activity to kill a day this time of year, and it won’t leave your students collecting useless info.