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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

How to Not Google Your Homework

It’s tough being a teacher in the age of Google. Instead of writing an original story, kids can just search for content online and copy it. If they suspect the teacher in turn will google their text to check for plagiarizing, the kids can rephrase the text.

However, things can go awfully wrong with this approach, too. While googling is a handy skill, you need a basic understanding of what it is you’re googling for. My mom Dorothee’s a teacher, and the homework for her 6th-graders was to write an essay on Roman cooking. My mother covered this topic in her lessons as well to prepare the kids.

Now one homework that was returned to her was titled “Joschka Made the Romans Start Cooking.” It’s a German pun hard to translate, but the actual story – which was copied word-by-word by the student – was about politician Joschka Fischer who gave a campaign speech on a place called “Roman Hill”... and the metaphor was that he managed to create a “boiling pot,” setting his frenetic supporters on fire!

Indeed, searching German Google for roman cooking, I can find the original text in Google’s cache in the top 10. The student (who I’ll keep anonymous here) not only managed to fully copy it... she introduced some errors along the way. For example, the original title was that “Joschka Made the Roman Start Cooking” (the hill, singular, not the Romans, plural). Naturally, the text was not only completely off-topic, but also worded too sophisticated for anyone her age, which would have given her away too.

A tip to students in the digital age who try to research their homework: make sure you know a little more than the plain keywords you’re writing about!


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