Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Searching for the Answer

In the past two weeks, the state of Arkansas has been experiencing its annual snow-pocalypse, which basically means we don't go to school if there is a threat of snow or ice. While this has given me plenty of much needed work time, I am now out of projects that I want to complete and very ready to get back to work in my classroom. Last week, we were out for winter weather Monday through Wednesday, and Thursday when we returned I taught a research lesson to my students. My students have been researching small things all year, but I felt like we needed a quick refresher before we started a more involved research unit that will end in an argumentative writing project.

I began the lesson by giving students a search scenario. I told them I wanted to find a video online. In particular, because I have had a tough day, I would like to find a video of a kitten playing with a baby turtle. Then, I asked them this question: If I type the word "kitten" into the search bar on Google, how many response do you think I will get?

I got an impressively broad range of guesses. Some guessed as low and six or twelve results. Others guessed as high as 2 million or 5 billion. The actual answer is 52.8 million results. We googled it together in class. Obviously, none of the top results in our search for kittens fulfilled my initial desire to find a video of a cute kitten playing with a baby turtle. Students predicted that this would be the case, and this led to a discussion on narrowing and focusing search terms to reduce the number of results. As students helped me brainstorm better search terms, I typed them in on Google each time, and the students were amazed at how different search terms made the number of results jump around. Essentially my goal was to guide my students to the conclusion that ineffective search terms waste time. We have this vast resource at our fingertips, but we have to know how to use it effectively and responsibly.

After this little introduction, students worked through a research review presentation on their iPads to review the parts of the search results page and how to choose the best result to find the information they want. Making this student-led instead of teacher-led really gave students the time they needed to think about the information and answer their own questions about internet searching. It was a very effective and enjoyable way to spend our very short two-day week at school.

Hopefully, my students took away stronger searching skills from this lesson. My takeaway from this lesson was that people are incredibly incorrect when they say that our students are "digital natives." Sure, the kids I teach now have never known life without mobile devices, but they weren't born knowing how to choose the best emoji. When I asked students how many search results we would get for the "kittens" search, I was amazed that any student would guess below the hundreds of thousands. However, I shouldn't have been. Our students have such a varied range of experiences with online content. Some spend their lives online while others could care less about their digital presence. Even within that section of kids who are glued to their phones, knowing how to post a picture on Instagram doesn't equal knowing how to use the Internet for academic purposes or even knowing how to determine whether that Instagram post is appropriate or not. My job as a teacher has changed dramatically, even in the four years I've been doing this. Not only do I need to be teaching my students how to make sense of what they find online, but I also need to be teaching them awareness of what they create.

It was good to go back and do this little refresher. It reminded me that I've got a big job to do. Now that our three snow days for this week have come to a close, hopefully I can get back to work tomorrow with it.

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