YARMOUTH — Around our dinner table, some question often floats to the top of the conversation. With children of ages 2, 6 and 12, the scope varies. Do I have to eat broccoli? Is the tooth fairy a boy or a girl? How many people in India are Hindu, how many are Muslim, how many are Sikh?

Some of these require parental improvisation. Some we can answer with a little reflection. But it’s amazing to realize how many of my wife’s and my responses could contain some form of, “No idea. Let’s Google it.”

And it’s not just at our house, of course, where this discussion plays out. It’s a response that’s possible in almost any context now, especially at schools.

None of us could have predicted the impact of social media or online learning on education. But it’s what’s behind these realities that’s actually the most interesting aspect of this new revolution: the sheer amount of information that’s almost instantaneously available.

It’s increasingly clear that educators can’t just teach facts, formulas and figures and be relevant anymore. The Google we can consult and, I would argue, the “Google-izing” of our minds, make us think that we can unlock the world with a few taps at a keyboard.

But this information tsunami can drown us in a sea of trivia, misinformation and propaganda instead of information that’s accurate and relevant, much less thought-provoking.

With this unparalleled access to information at our fingertips, schools and teachers need to focus on a different paradigm for teaching and learning. It’s time to not only help students master the information they need to be successful, but also learn how to better process the information that’s so readily available.

In other words, it’s time for schools to think deeply and act skillfully to develop minds that thrive on synthesis.

Perhaps the first lesson is this: Ubiquity and speed aren’t the same as in-depth understanding that leads to an ability to apply knowledge and solve problems in useful ways. In our schools, teachers should focus on fostering the skills to gather, edit and then critically discern the essential information needed to productively and creatively solve problems.

What are some of the best ways to achieve this goal? First, teachers can engage students in real world problem-solving. For example, a school could offer a class on the global water crisis and ask students to devise possible solutions to this big issue, working side-by-side with their teachers within a “think tank” model of learning. Students and teachers collect a range of information, make false starts, and try again.

Students can also be encouraged to relate topics to their own knowledge and experience and then engage in cross-disciplinary work. This pedagogy, which can link fields as disparate as calculus and psychology or physics and music, helps students raise important questions around complex issues and develops a sense of what real information is needed to solve a problem.

Through connecting disciplines, students can more easily separate vital facts from peripheral or irrelevant material as they sort through perspectives on any given topic, thereby forming theories that are more likely be correct and original.

In essence, teachers need to appeal to children’s innate curiosity: kids of all ages love to solve complicated problems that allow for opportunities to think past the surface and apply what they have learned from life experiences, particularly when it involves creatively combining subjects.

In fact, when students gain confidence in this process and begin to ask their own questions, they take greater ownership of their learning and develop a deeper level of comprehension.

Examining possibilities carefully, fairly and constructively, focusing next learning steps, and refining the most promising possibilities allows students to better prioritize likely solutions.

With a higher level of synthesizing information from a wide range of sources, students become more effective problem solvers who can generate greater options through critical and creative thinking

No matter how adept students are at surfing the Internet, a synthesizing mind allows them to zero in on the most important information and apply it to the kinds of real world applications and problems that they are likely to face in their lifetimes.

It is this well-honed ability to weave together information in productive and interesting patterns that’s more important now than ever before.

With devices out of reach during dinner, we let those questions, profound and otherwise, circulate, grow refined, get guessed at.

They start to bump into other queries: Why eat broccoli at all? Is the tooth fairy international? When did Hinduism develop? How did Islam get to India in the first place?

Most nights, it makes for a lively meal. It also makes, we hope, for lively minds.

– Special to the Press Herald