Saturday, February 4, 2012

Demystifying Student Research: Part 2

I confess: I'm really excited about this series! I suppose I really could expand this series into, well, I guess a whole blog, huh? But I think a miniseries is good. (And this way I sort of look like I know what I'm talking about!)

If you want to know more than what I'll share here, find out what your local librarian takes in his/her coffee and stop by Starbuck's. Librarians and Media Specialists are the true experts when it comes to this stuff. Sadly, too few work in schools anymore. School libraries are being run by paraprofessionals and volunteers, and while that's well and good if all you need is someone to manage a book collection, we have lost a tremendous source of knowledge. This research stuff is tough to teach! 
But, anyway ... let's continue, shall we? In Part 1, we talked about locating resources for inquiry on which the teacher picks the material. It's certainly the most restrictive, but when quality control is of utmost importance or a certain understanding is desired, it's the way to go. 

Let's look at the next step: giving students some choice. We're still going to maintain quality control by providing preselected sources to the students. The trick now is finding a way to present choices to the students in an organized manner. Now, if you are using print materials, this is easy: print them out and put them on display in some manner. But let's talk about digital texts and how they can be presented to students. When we present resources to students, I maintain that accessibility is key. Yes, you technically could copy a bunch of links onto a Word document and have kids open it on their computer, but this is unsightly Heaven forbid if someone changes a link and saves it back to the server. And for children who struggle to read, this can be problematic. For elementary students, I generally prefer something more visual, although I'll wrap this post up with some notes on social bookmarking.

1. QR Codes: QR Codes are easy to make and FREE. Plus, there's like 100 million different fabulous blogs out there about how to create them and how to use them in the classroom. I'm a big fan of Wes Fryer's 43 Interesting Ways to Use QR Codes in the Classroom for ideas. But, I digress. QR Codes are a great way to make resources accessible to students. No mobile devices in the classroom? No problem, any computer with a webcam (like those little netbooks) can download free QR code reader software such as QR Reader. You will need Adobe Air installed on your computer in order to run QR Reader, but it will enable your webcam to work as a QR code reader. Cool, huh? I'd put QR codes on 3x5 cards if I was going to use them for research this way. Make a collection year after year and add to it as you find new materials. QR codes can be linked to online documents, websites, simulations and games, videos, and even audio files.

2. 3x3links: Super, super simple to use, 3x3links is a very simple interface for sharing links with others. I like the size and visual appeal to the links; the education world has been looking for something this simple for a long time. For young children who are ready to explore multiple sources, this is great! Create a single page, or sign in and develop multiple pages. Each page is limited to 9 links, but you can create multiple pages. This kind of graphic interface is the perfect step for children to move to from single resources. 

3. More than just a research tool, 19pencils is a fabulous site for collecting resources from the web and gathering them in a visually-appealing manner for your students. Nicholas Provenzano is a resident expert on 19Pencils and has been using it pretty much from its inception. Check out his blog for more on this tool! 19Pencils is much more than a gathering tool; it really is worth exploring, but for our purposes here, it could easily be used to organize resources for students.

4. SymbalooEDU: Another free site that turns links into buttons, Symbaloo is another tool to help you organize bookmarks for your students. There is quite a flexibility to Symbaloo, although the smaller buttons may be difficult for younger students to navigate. This would be better for older students and units of study in which you have amassed a great number of digital resources for students to access. 

5. Diigo in Education: Diigo in Education is a free upgrade to your Diigo account that allows you to manage classes, add students, and send bookmarks to any of your groups. Students are automatically placed in class groups and are setup so that they can only see other classmates in their class group. For flexibility, Diigo wins. Not only can students locate your bookmarks (I use tags to help students find the right bookmarks), but they can use Diigo for adding their own bookmarks, which they can keep private, share with the class group, or share with a group of their own creation. Virtual sticky notes and highlighter features in the Diigolet are the perfect accompaniments to online research. I use Diigo with my 5th grade students. I can post quick notes or bookmarks to the group. To find relevant sources, the students search for certain tags that I assign their group. I start out the year assigning only 1 tag per research question; as the  year goes on I expand their selection by offering multiple tags they can use in their search. Generally, resources overlap our groups when we are researching a topic, so assigning groups to multiple tags isn't a lot more work for me; it's just a matter of adding some more generic tags to the resources I am already pulling. Obviously, many blog posts could be dedicated to Diigo alone. I'll continue to post blog entries on our use with it as we explore more of its features. Our next challenge will be to learn more about how the Diigo app works on our iPads and see how it helps us conduct our research and organize our thoughts.

When you and your students are ready to take research to the next level (Beyond single, teacher-selected materials) check out some of these tools. Taking the time up front to select quality materials for your students to access and presenting them in an organized fashion is key to a successful inquiry. In Part 3, we'll explore how custom search engines and aggregators could be used to facilitate student evaluation skills without completely handing over quality control to students. I look forward to seeing you then!

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