On the positive side, I think such questions were a big waste of our time so the existence of search engines is (hopefully) making middle school teachers ask questions that require a little more thought.
On the negative side, search engines are adding more work to me! When I teach 15-251 (CMU's version of discrete math for computer science), most of the classic problems (and their solutions!) can be easily found on the Web. I'm always torn as to what strategy to follow to deal with this issue:
- Ignore The Whole Thing and Do Nothing. Pros: It's easy. Cons: Kids don't learn how to actually solve the problems if they just Google for the answers.
- Police State (my current approach). Make searching for answers on the Web be considered cheating in the class and punish them harshly if they cheat. Every year, we set up "Google Traps," in which we assign a problem with a unique name like "Giramacristo's Puzzle." We then publish a Web site that has a solution to "Giramacristo's Puzzle" and make sure it's the first result in Google for that query. Since we control the Web site, we can record all IP addresses that visit it and later correlate them with students in the class. We catch approximately 10% of the students in the class cheating. Pros: It's fun! (for me), and if you do it early in the semester they learn never to search for answers again. Cons: It requires effort. In addition, it's not clear that disallowing search engines is good preparation for life -- after all, they'll be able to use the Web when they're out of school.
- Allow Searching on the Web but Change the Problems. Pros: In real life they will be able to use Google. Cons: It's hard to come up with good ways to change the problems, and inventing brand new problems every year is even harder, especially if you want them to be as good as the classics. My advisor Manuel Blum has recently been thinking deeply about this and he told me a good strategy: for most problems (at least in theoretical CS), you can change them significantly by thinking "how can I make this problem be closer to reality?"