Sometimes It Takes A Few Tries

 research, teaching  Comments Off on Sometimes It Takes A Few Tries
Mar 022011

My 6th graders are in the middle of building wikis about a topic of their choice. It has been a journey of learning how to evaluate sites, how to locate information, how to bookmark sites using Diigo and take notes with the highlighting feature. They have learned how to create a wiki and plan out their front page, and they have had time to explore editing wiki pages.

Before we began building I had them plan out their site on paper using a template that looked like their wiki. However, as my students were building their sites I began to realize that they were putting all of their information on the front page. It was time to talk about pages and navigation.

We spent some time looking at websites and locating the navigation and discussing the purpose of navigation. We looked at the titles of pages and discussed why the titles had been chosen and whether they were helpful or not.

Back to the wikis and they still didn’t get it.

So, in desperation, I tweeted out a simple question:

 I got a lot of great responses, but one from my friend Michelle stuck out:

Today we gathered together and I had a student give his topic. I wrote the topic (lightning) in a bubble in the middle of the screen and then told the class, “Let’s pretend that Carl* is writing a book about Lightning. What chapters would you include in that book, Carl?”  He then provided names like Dangers of Lightning, Types of Lightning as well as a chapter dedicated to photos of lightning. Things were looking good…

I then asked a second student who I knew was researching an individual, to provide his topic. Since many of the students are researching famous people, it was imperative that we do a similar exercise with such a topic.

The second student provided his topic and his chapter titles. It clicked.

The students were then sent to their seats where they used pencil and paper to draw out a map of their book title (their topic) and the chapters. Most of them were bent over, intently listing their chapters and building their map.

The red check shows that I have read over and discussed their ‘chapters.’

The real proof of comprehension will come when I see them again on Friday, but I am fairly certain that they will be ready to start building their pages.

*not real student name

Feb 252011

As my 4th graders begin their research projects we have been discussing and experimenting with keywords. Today they put together a list of questions about their topic (a famous African American) to prepare for starting their research. I gave them a choice of how they listed the questions. I modeled the list method and the ‘idea map’ (graphic organizer) method while also telling them that they could organize their questions in whatever fashion made sense to them.

As I walked around I noticed a big drawing of Michael Jordan on one of my students’ papers. This student had been asking lots of questions about the assignment, but I had been so sure that we had cleared everything up, so my hear sank when I saw the drawing. I double checked with the student as I approached to take a closer look and he looked at me and said, “You said we could do it however makes sense to us, right?” I looked closer.

He had been writing his questions inside the drawing! It made my day.

Let’s rethink our practice of making everybody do it ‘just like the teacher!’

Feb 022011

I have been fighting filtering battles ever since I first entered a computer lab as a technology teacher almost 4 years ago. 

Today I got my vindication.

I am lucky that my new school does not block YouTube. My 6th graders are doing research projects that will culminate in them creating a Google Site about their topic. Today they began to (yes, it’s old school) sketch out on paper a basic design for their site. As they thought about their homepage, many of them asked if they could use video. “Of course,” I replied.
I quickly harkened back to last week when my friend Ann and I were embedding video into a Google Site for a presentation we did together this weekend.

“Go to YouTube,” I said. See if you can find a video there. YouTube videos are easily embeddable into Google Sites with the click of a button.

As many of them searched the ‘dreaded’ YouTube for relevant videos, I had not ONE student searching for inappropriate content or looking up videos that were not ‘kid-friendly.’


The task was authentic, and they had a purpose for searching the site.

Blocking these kinds of resources denies our students access to material that is relevant, interesting and informative.

One student, who is researching drums, bookmarked a video of Justin Beiber playing the drums in her Diigo library with a note: “Even famous people play the drums.”  Another student found a video of a lightning storm for his site about lighting and electricity.

If we design authentic and meaningful experiences and use good classroom management and common sense when using these tools, we can rest assured that little harm will be done.

Jan 212011

My last post, Research: One of the Hardest Things You’ll Ever Do, was a reflection on a lesson with my 6th graders about evaluating sites.  I shared it with my network on Twitter and was met with some dialogue about my choice of “Is it a blog?” as an evaluation question.

Here is some of the conversation:

If I had never blogged about the experience and if I had never tweeted my blog post, I would have missed out on a concise, yet meaningful exchange that challenged me to think differently about my teaching. 
It makes me wonder: how I ever did anything on my own before!
Thanks to Bud Hunt and Tom Fullerton for pushing my thinking.
Jan 132011

My 6th graders are about to embark on a journey for the next few weeks. While it may seem like an exaggeration, I tell them that “research is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.”  Even as an adult, I find this statement is only a slight exaggeration.  They will be completing their first research project with me and I am really excited about it.

Research is one of the hardest skills to teach, and, in the past, my efforts have had limited success.  This year, I have rethought my approach and have broken the process down into (hopefully) easily digestible steps.

I asked them how many of them had done a research project before, and fewer than half raised their hands. I was expecting this, mostly because of the school’s lack of resources for facilitating research (no library and no functional computer lab before this year). I told them that we would be taking it step by step to make the process easier for them.

My students will be creating Google sites about their topic that they chose, so I explained how important it is to make sure that their website is factual and contains accurate information.

After we used Schoology to post our research questions and topics, installed our Diigo toolbars and learned how to bookmark sites, we spent a class period learning how to evaluate sites.  I provided them with four sites and gave them a chance to review the sites for about 5 minutes, deciding which ones were real and which ones were fake. This is the page for the activity.

After they had a chance to view the sites, we grouped together and, using the criteria, explored whether each site was real or fake.

  • is it a blog?
  • can anyone post here?
  • is it an educational or government site?
  • who is the author?
  • can I find this information anywhere else on the web?

Sometimes, we made it through all of the criteria, but when we searched the web, we found that the site was fake or the information was false.  Students suggested that we “Google” to see if we could find more information about the topic. Each time I pulled up one of the sites, they easily moved through the steps, scrolling down to find the author and, in the case of the Tree Octopus, we discussed ‘gut’ feelings and that they can be a valid reason to mistrust a site.

Using the criteria list, my students created an acronym to help them remember the criteria for evaluating sites. They came up with one that, to an outsider, might not make a lot of sense, but I know will be helpful to them. The beauty of it is that it was created by them, for them.

Anyone post?
Who is the author?
Information somewhere else?

I am excited by their engagement in the lesson and I believe that this activity, and my deliberate attempt to move slowly through the research project will ensure successful websites and a successful research process. 

I will keep you posted…..


Sep 272009

Yesterday, I attended a Classroom 2.0 and Future of Education webinar called “Google Research and Google Web Search Curriculum,” presented by Lucy Gray, Cheryl Davis, Kathleen Ferenz and Dan Russell.  It was like a crash course in best practices for searching Google, and the session was extended by about 30 minutes to include a quick overview of Google Custom Searches

As soon as the session ended, I went right to Google and created my customized search engine

I do a research project with my students every Fall.  The project incorporates many different skills, including:

  • using keywords
  • good sites vs. bad sites (does a site offer the content you are looking for?)
  • copyright/fair use
  • word processing
  • idea mapping (using Inspiration software)
  • PowerPoint

Many of my students lose precious time (I only see them for 45 minutes once a week) sifting through Google results that are often irrelevant to their topic.  Here is where my custom search engine comes in.

When you create your search engine, Google allows you to list all of the sites you want to come up in the search results.  This would be helpful if students are researching a specific topic—you can simply plug in a list of sites where they can find information on the topic.  I decided to enter the URLs for kid friendly search engines that I am familiar with and other sites like, Time for Kids, National Geographic and Wikipedia and other encyclopedias that will yield more relevant results than a general Google search.

That’s not all!

Google also provides an embed code, so I can also embed a search box into my classroom wiki so my students can do a search through my search engine, right on our homepage!

This tool is one that every teacher should give a try!