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?

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?
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?
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?
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?
Is the subject discussed in depth?
Do the links on the page lead to trustworthy sites?
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!

August 30

Research Skills workshop with Grade 3

February 26, 2018

In my first set of workshops, I guided Julie’s Grade 3 class on the basics of web searching and using kid-friendly search engines such as Kiddle.

I engaged them in a discussion about why shared sites like Wikipedia and YouTube are not recommended sources for academic research.  We went over a very simple bibliography and then I got students to team up and research bugs.  It was a fun project overall and the kids really got into their research subjects.

Here are some examples of the finished product:

I was very proud of these kids who had to pick up a lot of skills in a two period workshop.  They did great work!