I remember the first time in elementary school when we had to give “oral reports.”  I want to say it was in third grade, which for me was 1985.  The topic was a famous person of your own choosing.  I have a vivid memory of one kid in my class doing his on Wilt Chamberlain, and closing the “speech” by saying “He is still playing today for the Los Angeles Lakers.”

Immediately I was sure that wasn’t true (perhaps it was the first indication that this was the right field for me).  At 8 years old my NBA expertise was minimal, but I definitely knew about the Lakers and their rivalry with Boston.  I was certain that Wilt Chamberlain was not a part of it, and that he hadn’t played in the NBA in a long time (in fact he retired in 1973).

So how was it possible this kid said something that had been false for 12 years?  Because at the time you had to go to the library, look through the card catalog, find a book, read it, take notes, and then report them.  The book he used as his source from the Willard School library was published in the early 1970’s.

When I got a little older and started writing “research reports” I was exposed to an amazing thing called “microfiche.”  It consisted of tiny photographs of newspaper articles on film that could be viewed with a machine which was basically a microscope hooked up to a monitor.  There was still a lot of leg work to be done, but now you had access to much more and current information beyond just the books in the library.

In college our library had a subscription to something called LexisNexis, which was sort of a predecessor to Google.  It was a giant database of news articles online, but in order to use it you often had to wait in line to get on one of the few computers that had it.

So what is my point here, other than sounding like an old man?  If you’re a kid in school these days, writing a research report (or finding out pretty much anything you want to) has got to be incredibly easy, pretty much a joke compared to what it used to be.  You can probably do most of the work on your iphone while you’re outside on the playground during recess.  I’d love to hear from parents and teachers any sort of insight you might have in this regard.

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