Online Tools for Research: Elementary and Middle School Style

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One of the most challenging areas in education today is helping students navigate through the ever-increasing world of information. There are many estimates out there on how fast the internet is growing, but everyone agrees it is the fastest-growing technology humankind has ever created! To get a handle on this 21st-century repository of information, librarians, teachers, and students need to harness the power and flexibility of the more-powerful, flexible, and varied online tools being developed ... tools that can help them find, evaluate, and organize the megaloads of information out there. This applies not only to high school students but to younger students as well.

SCALING AND SCAFFOLDING

At the early elementary level, one of the best ways to help students focus on the information is to create safe, organized sites of information that they can use. Common topics such as endangered animals, U.S. presidents, and explorers can have grade-level research pages where information is organized and cited in a way that students can focus on gathering and using it.

By upper elementary school, these same tools can be used to help students focus on specific information, to link to specific websites, and to begin to teach information-seeking strategies. In middle school, these Web 2.0 tools continue to help with focusing students' research efforts on specific information. Middle school students can begin to use these tools to organize and cite the information they find. The same Web 2.0 tools can be used by teachers and librarians to create a repository of information that students can use in their research, which will continue to help students become more proficient at finding, evaluating, organizing, and using information.

WIKIS

One Web 2.0 tool that works well for organizing information is a wiki, such as PBworks (www.pbworks .com), a free tool that is very easy to use. Teachers and librarians can create pages with text, pictures, and links. One of the main things to consider when using a tool such as PBworks is organization. Will this be set up for the entire school, for a specific grade level(s), or for a specific class? How will students and teachers access the information? Will there be a main page with links to all the information pages? Will it be tied to the main school webpage? Spending time on planning is a critical step to using Web 2.0 tools well.

Let's look at a few specific examples of how a wiki can help with the research process.

STEP-BY-STEP FOR FIRST GRADERS

Our first grade students are writing a research paper on local animals. We start with planning. The first grade teachers and the school librarian work together and decide which online and offline resources will be used for this project. The teachers gather books and magazines about local animals. They also create a wiki page with links to webpages about these animals. Students spend several days in class reading about the animals. Some of the time is spent together as a whole class, some in small groups, with partners, and individually. The teachers also send home the wiki page link so parents can work with their students at home.

The students work together to create a list of all the local animals that they learned about. Each student can select an animal to write a research paper about, or teachers can assign animals to specific students. This could include grouping or partnering students as they move to the next step of the research process.

To help in gathering and organizing information, teachers create a handout that students should use to collect information. Using any word processor, type up some questions, providing room for students to write in the answer. Most questions should elicit concrete and very short answers. However, it's a good idea to include one or two questions that will require some synthesizing of information, such as, "What is the most interesting fact about your animal? …