Missing Assignments

Because I won’t see you until next week (remember, alternative class assignment for tonight – no class meeting) I thought I’d encourage you to double check your assignments. I’m missing several. If you did it but have either a zero or no score in the grade book it’s because I cannot find your assignment. If you turned it in, make sure you double check the share settings in Google Drive. Also, for videos, some of them are not accessible. Please see the comments in the digital story assignment post.


Alternative to Class this Thursday (10/31)

Being Halloween, many people were not overly excited to come spend time in class (can’t imagine why). So after a brief discussion we decided that in lieu of a face to face class this Thursday we are going to do a little web activity. It should take you about 1-2 hours. You have from now until Nov 6 to do it. Below are the instruction. It will be half of your participation points for the semester so don’t forget.


I briefly mentioned this when were discussing the Harouni article. This is an activity I’ve used with 6th graders for the past 3 years. It’s a good introduction to web research, evaluating information, and learning to trust your instincts.

  1. Select an article in Wikipedia on a topic about which you are very knowledgeable. Make sure it’s a detailed article. If it’s too short or incomplete you may not have enough content to work with.
  2. Read the article and look for things you do not trust or otherwise feel might be wrong. You are an expert on this topic so be critical. Find 3 examples. If you cannot find things you think are outright wrong, look for information that is incomplete, overly simplified, biased, or opinion not fact (opinions are not allowed in Wikipedia).
  3. Conduct research to discover the truth about your 3 items. Use multiple, reliable sources. Plan to cite at least 3 sources for each item. You may find that sources do not agree. That’s okay. Look for consensus and explain what you found.
  4. Create a document, presentation, video, whatever to share your findings. Share it by posting it here. Might need to upload to Google Drive and share the link. Include the following for each of your three statements:
    1. The statement you didn’t trust or felt was wrong.
    2. A summary of what you learned doing your research.
    3. Cite at least three sources you used to draw your conclusion.

Email me if you have questions. This isn’t a right/wrong type activity. It’s about making the effort to discover something about the nature of information on the web and an approach you might use with students to help them become better able to read discerningly and critically.

Google Project

(Due 11/8)


As with the digital story, this project is about exploring a new tool and ways in which can be used to teach or, more specifically, enhance the learning process. As we have been discussing, much of teaching and learning has traditionally revolved around regurgitation. As we learned with Bloom’s and newer approaches to 21st century teaching, education needs to shift the focus to creation and, in particular, creation combined with critical thinking and inquiry.

In this project you will be using Google Earth as another type of storytelling (sort of). In this case, the story will be focused on places and/or travel between places (an obvious limitation of Google Earth). One project I have done in the past with students is to take the rather traditional European explorers unit, which often resulted in regurgitative powerpoint projects, brochures, or other reports, and turn them into journeys. While explorers and journeys go well together, there are a lot of other ways in which this process can be used. For example, when learning about any country or region, learners can conduct research about the various historically significant places and/or events and then discuss and make decisions about the “top 5” that everyone should see or know about. From there, they create a travelogue of sorts where they not only take us to these places but explain why these belong among the top 5. What makes them more important than others? Obviously, this is subjective but that is the point – to have learners use information to make decisions.

Other Applications

While Google Earth seems most appropriate to social studies and geography type content, It can be used for a wide variety of subjects. An art class might create a tour of museums, biographies of artists of a particular style, or even the travels and influences on a particular artist. Google Earth offers a different approach to interacting with and creating content with products that can be shared and extended beyond the classroom. In a science class students might map the progression of a disease or infestation (bark beetle) or track the spread of invasive species. GPS data can be integrated into Google Earth. Advanced GIS (http://www.esri.com/what-is-gis) tools exist, but Google Earth can be used in a similar, though more basic, way (schools can get the pro version for free and there is a free trial you might want to try (http://www.google.com/earth/outreach/tutorials/importgis.html). In a mathematics class, students might integrate demographic data to answer statistical questions. While Google Earth is obviously limited, it is not so limited as to be useless in a variety of content areas. How and when you might use it in any content area is really only limited by your imagination. Even if the tool itself is minimally useful in a particular content, the process and skills around designing learning environments that integrate technology which you are developing are transferable.


For this project, start by exploring the standards for a grade/content you are interested in and select one that you feel might lend itself to this project. With some content areas you may need to be a little creative and imaginative. However, be selective and really consider how the selected topic fits into Google Earth.

Next, conduct enough research and/or collect needed data and using Google Earth, create a tour in a manner similar to how your students might approach your objective/project (i.e. similar to how you created your digital story). Be sure to consider what types of information are useful or necessary to meet your objective and include it in your tour where appropriate. Include a picture, chart, graph or other visual information as well. See http://www.google.com/earth/outreach/tutorials/kmltours.html for some information on how to create a tour. There are many other resources on the web so feel free to explore.


The project is worth 100 points. We will turn in and share the projects via a comment attached here. If working on school computers keep in mind that information may or may not survive over time so keep a backup of your work (for example, save the .kml file and other data to a flash drive). I do not know if all campus computers have version 5 of Google Earth installed. Obviously, if you are using your own computer you will need to install the latest version. If you have an older version you should update it.

The rubric for this project is fairly basic. Include all the parts and get full credit.

Required Parts:

  • A standard and objective (included in your comment) – 10 points each
  • A tour created in Google Earth incorporating at least 5 locations or data points – 20 points
  • Appropriate information (text, visuals, narration) to accompany each of your locations or data points – 40 points
  • An image or graphic (for each location/data point) with proper citation (a link is sufficient for now) – 10 points
  • A bibliography of the sources used for your research – 10 points

Collaborative Learning

As you may have ascertained, I am a fan of collaborative learning. As such, you may elect to work with a partner (groups of two only) on this project provided your project seeks to go beyond the above criteria. How you extend it is up to you. Be creative. I do not just want you to each do half the work. Instead, discuss and explore ideas to go beyond a simple tour. You might, for example, decide to use the Pro version and integrate GIS data, create a sequence of tours that build upon each other, develop differentiated versions for a more diverse audience, or integrate a tour into a larger video project. Again, be creative.

Website Evaluation and the Research Process

Understanding Website Evaluation

First and foremost, websites should be evaluated based on CONTENT and not superficial characteristics such as domain name, presence of an author’s name, or when it was last updated. Credentials can be easily faked. Content is the only truth (false content is still true in its falseness such as a study on history revisionist).

Many well-meaning people have developed tools for students to use to evaluate websites. The problem with most of them is they send the message that if you check off enough “yes” or “+” then the website and its content must be reliable. Consider Kathy Schrock’s elementary and middle school evaluation checklists (her full site is here). The questions for students are good questions. They should encourage students to think about the content. However, the simplistic nature of the checklist encourage students to think simplistically and ultimately evaluate a site based on how often they checked “yes”. If students check “yes” to “does the page include information you know is wrong” what does that mean? The obvious answer is that if the information is wrong then the site should likely be rejected then and there. On the other hand, how does a student really know the information is wrong? They are likely reading the site because they do not know and are doing research. Hopefully, any teacher using this tool would have this conversation but that does not mean the students are listening. Simple tools encourage simple thinking. 21st century learning is about critical thinking.

A common misconception is that domain names (such as .com, .org, .edu, etc.) have inherent value in telling us about the nature of the content. A common belief is that .org is more reliable than .com. The truth is that anyone can purchase either one for any reason and the .org is more often used by groups with an agenda which often means a bias as well. PETA has a perfectly good message about the importance of kindness towards animals but they tend to present it with a strong bias. Maybe people would say their bias is okay but it is still a bias. Similarly, the martinlutherking.org site is owed by a hate group. On the other hand, a .com is often used by companies selling information. They work hard at presenting good, reliable, useful information in order to generate ad revenue. Reputable businesses are unlikely to give their ad dollars to questionable sites. A .edu can only be used by a higher learning institute. They also give personal space to staff. A famous incident involved a faculty member of Northwestern University. On his personal webpage on their .edu domain, Arthur Butz published content from his book on the myth of the Holocaust. Students found the information, saw the .edu domain, and assumed the information was reliable. After All, even though controversial he is a professor (of electrical engineering). The one exception to all this is .gov which is reserved for US government information. This information is all public domain (our taxes paid for it) and usually published by employees of the government and vetted. The content on all other domains is, for all intents and purposes, random and may or may not be reliable. Therefore, students must learn how to evaluate the content.

So, how should students or anyone else for that matter evaluate content? First, I would still encourage students to pay attention to site design. Cluttered and hard to read sites are not really worth the effort even if the content is good, and often if no one took the time to do a nice site they probably did not take the time to include quality content. However, beyond this, students need to start by reading the information and reflecting on the content in relation to their own background information. They should be encouraged to go with their gut feeling. They should be taught that good information is rarely short and simple. Information geared at elementary students will be simplified for the target audience but that isn’t the same as generic one paragraph responses on something like Yahoo Answers (a generally poor site that is unfortunately attractive to students). When students decide the information on a site seems in-depth and feels authoritative they still need to corroborate that information with multiple sources. They should be encouraged to pay attention to differing points of view and conflicting information. Why does it conflict? What can they learn about those on each side? Is there good evidence for one side over the other or is the topic controversial and unresolved? Students need to learn to take in this information and consider their own position while remaining aware of the various arguments and understanding that their own position may be counter to the evidence. This is called developing an open mind.

All of this cannot be taught in a single lesson or even a single year. It is a process that students need to practice from the first time they begin to use web-based information all the way through at least high school. Only with practice will they develop the habits of mind needed to effectively evaluate content.

How then should a 2nd grade teacher approach web research? First, very young students should probably be given pre-selected and vetted sites. As they learn to extract information from the web, start to give them the opportunity to decide which information is best. Resist the trap here of giving students obviously false information. Such trickery often results in animosity towards teachers and degrades trust. Instead, look for sites that differ in how they present similar information such as one well written and one less so or one that cites credible sources and one that relies on opinion. Older students can start to select their own sites but should be encouraged to avoid quick and dirty answers or other sites they feel are unprofessional or unreliable. They should also have to use and cite multiple sources and begin to synthesize information. Having them write a short summary of the information they plan to use (not the whole site or article) can be a way to get them thinking about the content. Also avoid assignments that are little more than “get and spit”. If students only need to look up and repeat information then there is little incentive to go beyond the first reasonable answer they find.

As students get to the point where they start to engage in open-ended research projects (and I stress open-ended because the more traditional “get and spit” research is of limited value in 21st century teaching), teachers can employ an approach similar to what I’ve outlined below.

The Research Process

There are some who profess to be able to TEACH the process of research as a series of sequential steps (Big6 for example). I would argue that it is not taught but develops organically (cue Sir Ken Robinson) through practice. As such, I propose a somewhat different approach to the research process that I think is more inquiry based and turns it over to students more allowing them opportunities to experience the process rather than be taught a formula. These are not steps to instruct, but part of a process that students should engage in. The trick is to develop learning environments or experiences that enable this process to develop. This is a work in progress.

  1. Teacher usually selects a broad topic and then students choose somewhat more focused topics and conduct some level of background research. I like the phrase “learn all you can.” The goal is to develop background. It’s not important at this point what they focus on as long as it’s related to the general or chosen topic.
  2. Once they develop some background, students write very focused research questions. Lots of trial and error. Teacher holds students to a high standard and forces numerous rewrites.
  3. Students write guiding questions. These are questions “about” the research question. What are the finer points students need to answer first before they can answer the research question.
  4. Conduct additional research. Students collect a variety of sources that address their guiding questions. Some may be better than others, some may be wrong, etc. Encourage students to pay attention to different answers and ask them to consider which source they trust and why.
  5. Repeat 2-4. Students take the background information they have collected in step 1 as well as the more focused background developed in step 4 and go back to their research question and re-evaluate it. Should the question change based on what they know now (which is more than they knew when the first wrote the question). This process of looping through the background information and revising research questions may happen several times before students (and teachers) are happy with their question.
  6. Focused research. This is a continuation of the previous steps but they are more focused now on finding the best sources of information. This is where they should start to really ask questions about the quality of the content. I talk with them about the five “who, what, when, where, why” questions and how those questions can’t always be answered and even when they can it doesn’t always tell them much – people can and do lie about who they are or what credentials they have. Dig deeper. What have they learned about the topic and does the content on the current site mesh with their background knowledge? Do they trust it? Can they find multiple sources that support it?
  7. Synthesize the information from multiple sources. Here they take the information they found and decide how to use it and organize it to answer their research question.
  8. Evaluate what they have. Does it answer the question, does it meet the goals and objectives? If they are trying to persuade does it? What questions might others have about the information and have they addressed them?
  9. Publish. Whatever the final method for sharing the information, this is where students put it “out there” for their audience. Hopefully the audience is bigger than just the teacher. Share it with the class, the school, the broader community. This is where it helps to have a reason for doing the research in the first place (i.e authentic, real-world projects that are meaningful to students).

One thing I think is important to consider is that we want students to learn how to approach the research process but the idea here is not to “teach” them a formula, but to create an environment in which they can explore the process on their own. The more chances they have to do this, the better they will become. Formulas encourage rigid and often simplistic thinking. Exploration encourages critical thinking, self-reflection, problem solving, creativity and other 21st century skills.

Reading Assignment 7

You’ll probably think I have Wikipedia on the brain, but it’s mainly coincidence that these two authors focused on Wikipedia. Or is it? Anyway, our next reading is called What It Means to Ban Wikipedia. While the author focuses on Wikipedia in particular, the overall argument is more about the research process and how, in his view, it’s being undermined by teachers focused on the final outcome. It is directed at a higher ed audience, but I think the overall pedagogical ideas are applicable to all grade levels.

One thing we should probably attempt to address is ways in which research is handled in early grades. Elementary teachers often have lessons where students are expected to “find information on…” and then use it in some way (often just filling in worksheets or similar). What is often overlooked is the process of how they are supposed to do that. Also worth considering is the benefit of “looking stuff up” and repeating it. That is NOT a 21st century skill. So how can we meet the needs of younger students while still recognizing their current cognitive development? Your reflection is due by October 22.

As part of your reflection consider a couple CDE standards for social studies – 3rd grade standard 1.2.d and 2.2.b. These can be found on the CDE site and are copied below.  Both of these require students to use historical or geographical/cultural (respectively) information in some way. How should students access and use this information? Do we give them pre-selected sources? If so, are we missing opportunities to teach how to find, access and evaluate information? If we let them find their own do we confine them to textbooks and encyclopedias? It will be increasingly common to use the internet for this type of work. Do we ban, allow, encourage Wikipedia? What about other sites? While you do not need to address all these questions in your reflection you should consider them and, perhaps most importantly, what sort of lesson would you design for this (heads up – your final project will be very similar to this). It would be tempting, but not very 21st century, to use a worksheet to “identify the factors…” Also tempting, but not transforming, is to have students make a nice PowerPoint to “describe the history…”

3rd Grade Social Studies
1.2.d – Describe the history, interaction, and contribution of the various peoples and cultures that have lived in or migrated to a community or region.

2.2.b – Identify the factors that make a region unique including cultural diversity, industry and agriculture, and land forms.

In addition, changes to state tests are on the horizon. The 2013-14 school year should see the first online assessments in science and social studies. You can view practice tests on the PearsonAccess site. Click “support” and choose one of  the ePAT tests. These are designed to run as they will in a test environment so they will sort of “take over” your computer until you exit. I have not tried them all, but the 7th grade SS test seemed pretty telling of where things are going. How we approach research based projects will likely influence how well students do on these types of tests.

Reading Assignment 6

Sorry for not posting this sooner. I started it and forgot to publish. It’s due 10/15 so you still have a week.

For your next reading assignment, read the article “High School Research and Critical Literacy – Social Studies With and Despite Wikipedia” by Houman Harouni. This article provides us a lens by which we can start to discuss transforming approaches to instruction as well as a solid pedagogical approach to research and developing information literacy skills. Although it discusses high school students, the challenges of research and critical literacy skills span all grade levels. The article highlights challenges we face as teachers and how one teacher responded.

One activity he does is to have students evaluate a Wikipedia article. I’ve done my own modified version of this for 3 years now with 6th graders and the outcome has been very interesting and it seems to help students develop some evaluation skills (one of the 21st century skills). I would encourage you to try this. Pick an article on a topic you feel well informed about and see if you can identify and verify errors. One of the basic skills this teaches students is to use multiple sources.

Before you assume otherwise, let me explain that I am not one of the teachers who tells students that Wikipedia is unreliable and should not be used. There are issues surrounding Wikipedia that students should be aware of, but they are not unique to Wikipedia. The web as a whole is filled with unreliable and highly biased information that was not written by professionals, vetted and edited by editors, and selected and pre-approved for display to students. The idea that Wikipedia is less reliable than anything else because it “can be edited by anyone” is simply false and the result of misinformation purveyed by those who do not fully understand the nature of the site nor the web in general. While the ability to be edited by anyone has the potential to introduce errors and misinformation, it is also the one thing that guarantees that the information there will improve with time and such errors and bias fixed. Consider a counter-argument. A hate group posts information on their personal site and makes it look official even going to length to cite sources, it is attractive and appealing to students with simple language, references to pop culture and may even include games or other fun activities. Because it is a private site no one can correct any of the information or even take it down. It persists and remains available for students. Its attractive nature and simple language appeals to students looking for quick and easy answers. On the other hand, any such information that is added to Wikipedia by the same group would be short-lived. If not removed immediately by the automated vandalism filters, the millions of well-meaning contributors and editors would eventually revert or repair. Students told they cannot use Wikipedia may easily end up using alternative sites that are much less credible and even damaging. Students need to develop the skills necessary to ferret out suspicious information (regardless of sources) and check the history of edits in Wikipedia.

Keep in mind that this article is a few years old now and Wikipedia continues to develop. What role do yo see Wikipedia playing in the future of education and even the broader collective intelligence – particularly as it continues to grow and develop? Wikipedia began in 2001. We will have a follow-up reading on research and Wikipedia, but for now also consider what message is sent to students when we dictate the types of resources they can or cannot use.