February 3

Exploring Non-Fiction With Grade 1

Grade 1 visited the library on Friday for a workshop on exploring non-fiction.  We started off by discussing what some of the differences are between fiction and non-fiction, and grade 1 were already ahead of the game there and understood it quite well.  Non-fiction is a book that focuses on real events and real information.  It is a book we use to learn about something in most cases.

We moved on to talking about some unique parts found in most non-fiction books…

  • The table of contents
  • The glossary
  • The index

I showed them some examples of how we could utilize these parts of the book.

I gave the students a comprehensive walking tour of the non-fiction section of the library.  After that, we played a scavenger hunt game.  Students were given a slip of paper with a subject and a Dewey Decimal number on it.  They were tasked with using what they had learned to locate it.

We all had a lot of fun and grade 1 may now be even more proficient at searching non-fiction than the rest of the school!

November 18

Continuing Our Work with Keywords

“Hey Siri, what makes a desert habitat unique?”

The answer to a complex question like that isn’t something Siri can answer so easily.  The problem is that students are using this Siri driven searching method every time they go online.  Typing long or complex questions into Google is a bad habit that needs to be broken in order to get the best search results for student research.

Grade 4 had a full period of practice on Thursday and it is already making a big difference in how they are approaching this task.

We first talked about the importance of being specific with our search terms.  Ari and Keira helped our grade 4s to get the idea with their tutorial.

 

Students were given a worksheet containing several long questions and asked to figure out what would be the most specific keywords to get the best results.  It was important for me to continually remind them that they don’t need to type a question in Google to get results.

Sample Questions:

1. My dog is digging holes in the backyard.  Is that because they are looking for bones?

Specific keywords to get a clear answer: dog digging

2. My friend just cheated at chess, what are the rules?

Specific keywords to get a clear answer: chess rules or rules of chess

We then gave students a research question:

Are video games addictive?  Can they affect child behaviour?

Students had to come up with all of the possible keywords and keyword combinations (called a query) on a whiteboard that would yield great search results for a paper on the topic.

 

Some of those were;

video games and addiction

children and video games

child behaviour and video games

video games and emotions

children and addiction and video games

etc.. etc…

Asking students to practice these skills with a daily in-class question is a great way to give them practice in this more precise way of searching.  Through regular practice they will learn how to get meaningful results and this will improve the quality of their work overall.

September 26

The Essentials of Research

Over the course of the past two weeks our middle schoolers have been working very hard to learn the following critical research skills;

  • Using the right keywords in a Google search to get the best results
  • How to effectively take notes
  • How to use in-text citation
  • How to create a bibliography

Students were asked to practice these skills in the form of a small assignment on the history of the microwave.  Some groups came back for a second session and practiced these skills with a series of exercises, and other groups made video tutorials to share with other middle schoolers.

Students are getting a strong grasp of these concepts that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

September 18

Using Non-Fiction Books and Kids Search Engines for Research

Our grade 3s got a feel for what research is all about on Tuesday.  Research is defined by Merriam-Webster as;

1careful or diligent search
2studious inquiry or examination especially investigation or experimentation aimed at the discovery and interpretation of facts, revision of accepted theories or laws in the light of new facts, or practical application of such new or revised theories or laws
3the collecting of information about a particular subject

Our students were tasked to carefully and diligently search through our book resources for information about the insect of their choice using a Table of Contents and/or an Index page.  They took notes in their own words on the insect of their choice and kept track of their sources.

They were then asked to search their subject online using very specific keywords.  The proper use of keywords in online searching is an underrated skill.  It takes some forethought to clearly use keywords to create the perfect query and yield the best results.  A search on kiddle.co for ‘centipedes’ will not yield half as much useful information as the query ‘centipede facts.’

They tracked their information in a special graphic organizer.

It is important that we don’t overlook the importance of teaching children to use books to find information.  Learning to quickly scan a page and find pertinent information is a critical part of learning.  So many children wanted to jump straight to finding the information they needed online, but learning to use non-fiction books is where children should begin.  Once they can easily navigate a book, they will have the ability to quickly and efficiently scan websites in the same way.

We will be continuing to fine-tune these skills with all of their research projects this year and I look forward to seeing this class on a regular basis here in the library.

May 7

You’re Never Too Young to Start Thinking Critically

“Don’t believe everything you read” parents often scold their kids, and we are giving them the skills to do exactly that!  Grade 2 came for a visit to learn about how to use critical thinking and the 5 W’s (who, what, when, where and why) when evaluating if information on a website is credible or not.

I was impressed at how quickly this group of grade 2s suspected that our website was indeed a fake (I guess it isn’t that much of a surprise, their teacher is media savvy Ann-Lynn!)  Working through a checklist of questions, we investigated the credibility of the website as a group.

This group of students are already demonstrating that they are extremely capable of thinking critically and they will grow into students who won’t be easily duped online.

February 1

Practicing Proper Notetaking Skills

I met with students in grades 3 and 4 this week to practice the art of proper notetaking.  Something which can come so naturally for adults is really a skill that needs to be taught and practiced so that bad habits don’t form early.

I’ve heard many middle schoolers tell me that they cut and paste from various websites while taking notes and then put it all together for their final project.  That is a fast-track route to a zero for plagiarism!  Many are not aware that there is anything wrong with this method.  By starting with younger grades I am hoping to catch them before it starts.

We decided to use books for this exercise so that students could practice using the table of contents and indexes to find the information they were looking for.  They then had to write their notes in their own words and keep track of their sources using a bibliography template.

 

We also watched this helpful video about how to figure out what is and is not important to our research questions when researching.

Let me assure you that this wasn’t as boring of a workshop as it sounds. The grade 3s especially got into it and some chose to work over recess, which was wonderful.  They are all on the right track now!

January 15

Understanding Keywords with Grades 3 and 4

Today grades 3 and 4 learned all about strategies for effective internet searching.  Students tend to type long questions into the search bar of search engines and click on the very first site that comes up, regardless of the quality or relevance of the site.  Over the past few years I’ve been trying to convey to students the importance of selecting a few important words from their questions (keywords) and using those to bring in targeted results.  I have also been trying to get students to use some of the many excellent kid-friendly search engines to narrow their searches to results that are geared to their grade level.

Students worked through some research questions and experimented with keywords to find good results.  For example, with the question: How many teeth does an adult dog have?  The keywords were teeth and adult dog.  After a bit of practice they picked up finding keywords very quickly.  The keyword worksheets are available through the marvelous resource Common Sense Education.

Ms. Bennett and Ms. Mellenthin are going to practice this each day in the classroom.  I think it will have a really positive impact on the quality of student research.

November 2

Information Credibility

The library has kicked off this year’s middle school research skills workshop series with a lesson on credible websites vs. non-credible websites and identifying fake news.  The students were asked to be detectives and jot down some of the ways you can identify which sites and articles are real and which are fakes.

Developing critical thinking is a skill that needs more attention than it gets.  Forbes reports that 75% of adults are fooled by fake news.

I had students looking at websites about explorers.  One of them was completely fake.  What I found interesting was that even information that seems very obviously ridiculous to an adult, such as a claim that Samuel de Champlain went to Disney World to celebrate winning ‘Best Fort of the Year’ from ‘Better Forts and Ramparts Magazine’, caused students to actually need to look up how long Disney World has been open because they weren’t sure if this could actually be a possibility.

On our fake news exercise, some students weren’t sure if Justin Trudeau was building a wall or not.  That is why it is so important to follow the rule of three and always compare three sources of information.

Is Justin Trudeau building a wall? The kids don’t know!

These videos show a few clever teams who immediately went to the ‘About’ page on the news article or website they suspected was fake to learn more about the source.  It is important that they learn to look outside of the site to find out more as well.

I think it is also important not to take for granted when you are working with kids that something that seems very obvious to an adult is not very obvious to students in a time where when information is presented in a way that looks legitimate it is taken seriously.

My favourite part of this activity was showing the students the fake website Pets or Food where you can buy exotic animals either alive or dead.  It is scary just how realistic this site is and that’s what makes it such a great example.

I think we all had fun and it was very eye-opening; from my perspective as an observer of this exercise to see how much work we need to do, and their perspective when they came to see how easily they could be duped.  This workshop series will tie in nicely to future topics such as being safe online.

August 30

Grade 7 and 8 – Comprehensive Research Skills Workshop

March 2018

These two workshops with Rabbi Rottenberg’s 7 and 8s were the most intensive of the lot and covered it all, from exercises on forming effective queries in search engines, to learning proper MLA bibliography format, to examine credible and non-credible sites in research.

We parsed some searches to find out which keywords were critical and which were not necessary to our search.

This exercise was based on a great Google Searching workshop that is available free online.
Picking the Right Search Terms

We worked on creating effective queries for many interesting questions.

Grade 8 had the toughest job, not only did they have to create a mini-bio on the celebrity of their choosing, they had to critically examine the sites they were using as they were going.  The results were both entertaining and encouraging as students started fitting together key concepts

Overall these workshops have been incredibly rewarding for me and I hope to hear that the result of these workshops is that kids are handing in much better quality assignments and choosing their sources much more critically.

August 30

Grade 6 Research Skills Workshop

February 2018

When I met with Rabbi Rottenberg’s Grade 6s we examined a fake website and used a critical checklist to determine if the site was or was not credible. This is such a fun exercise and really forces students to develop their critical thinking abilities as well as do some supplemental research to see what they can discover elsewhere about the author or the purported “tree octopus.”

It was incredible how many kids could be so easily duped.

Luckily a few web saavy students knew it was a fake right away.

The checklist was a really great tool because it forced students to examine areas of the site that they might not otherwise have even thought twice about.

Is this website credible or not?
http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/

Web Evaluation Checklist

Authority YES NO
Is it clear who wrote the content?
Is the author an expert on the subject?  Does he have a good reputation?
Is there contact information that can be verified?
Accuracy
Do you believe that the content is true?
Does the information use correct grammar, spelling and sentence structure?
Are the photos real or potentially altered in some way?
Objectivity
Is the information presented in a balanced way?
Is all the information included? Have some things been intentionally left out?
If there are ads on the page, do they have anything to do with then content of the page?
Currency
Is there any date to show when the content was created?
Is there any date to show when the content was last updated?
Do all the links work?
Coverage
Is the subject discussed in depth?
Do the links on the page lead to trustworthy sites?
Compare
Run a search on this topic.  Can you find two other credible websites?

I can’t recommend this Tree Octopus exercise enough for teachers of media and digital literacy!