On Tuesday and Wednesday WWP Teachers got together to discuss how to develop a critical thinking culture in their classrooms. When asked about students and researching, our WWP teachers feel that students are often lost when they begin researching online. It can be overwhelming for students, struggling to pick a topic, refining their search using keywords, or choosing valid reliable websites. It is important that teachers give students the tools they need to become critical thinkers as they search the vast web.
Probably the easiest thing to do is explain the terminology. I am always amazed how many students and teachers, do not understand the difference between a browser and a search engine, or even what is a URL. Students need to know that domain name in an URL can tell them so much about the owner of a site.
Before students begin research, do a general research on a topic to help students come up with key ideas or key words they could use in their search. Use general reference sites such as Wikipedi, SimpleWikipedia, Wolframalpha, or Qwiki.
It is important to ask the students to think about: Who created the site? What information is relevant, and reliable? When was the information posted? Why was the information published? Show the students a variety of different sites which are posted for fun. I definitely like talking to students about tree octopus or flying penguins. Use Wikipedi to show students that the sites were created for fun.
When students are using search engines, talk to them about using key words, (“”), (-), or (*) if they are unsure of a word. Using the term “for kids” also refines the search for students. If they are looking for a specific file then adding filetype:pdf to their search will limit the results to pdf only. Substitute doc, ppt for pdf if looking for document or PowerPoint. Searching for pdf’s really is valuable for those students who have no access to internet at home.
The Google search engine has a variety of ways to narrow the search. Try limiting search by using a basic reading level, or limiting by date published.
When you send your students off to research, make their initial researches successful by chunking the research for them. One of our WWP teachers, (thanks Melissa) developed daily learning goals the students had to research. Over the period of the research they collected these facts, and then were asked to present their research in a product of their choice. Students used Comic Life and Keynote effectively with little teacher persuasion.
The WWP teachers explored using Comic Life, Keynote/PowerPoint/OpenOffice and Notebook to present research. They laughed as they compared themselves to a Canadian Historical figure or choose several Christmas traditions to research. Each teacher left with a sample of research project, they could complete with their own students. Give the students choice in how to present their research and you will find that students are more willing to complete the research when they feel they have ownership for the project.