Monthly Archives: September 2014

Googlizing Research in the Classroom

Research is such a huge part of the Common Core curriculum, not that it hasn’t always been essential for student learning in our classrooms. But if you’re like me, getting kids to research effectively, navigating the web, is a daunting task. I recently had the opportunity to explore the world of Google and plan a workshop with my amazing colleague, Cheryl McGee. We were instructed to show a group of educators how to teach kids to research. Racking our brains, we came up with these steps:

Before you begin:

Take some time to discuss the following with students:

  • Check for Reliable Sources: teach students what sources are reliable. Mention domain names (.gov, .org) and sites you wish for them to avoid (wikis,, etc.)
  • Use Advanced Search Tools if Necessary: You might want to introduce students to the “search tools” options. The time an article was posted or the reading level might be beneficial for your assignment.

Research Time:

  1. Brainstorm Essential Questions: Get your students to focus their research. Have them come up with three questions (works well in a five paragraph essay) or more of what they are looking to understand.
  2. List Keywords: Breaking down the essential question into keywords will encourage a more focused search.
  3. Create a Note-taking Document: Have students create a new Google Doc. Rename it immediately the topic and “Notes” (ie. Saturn Notes)
  4. Type in Essential Questions: Students should write their questions on the document, allowing space between each.
  5. Open Google Research Tool: This Google Tool will become your student’s best collaborator. Type in Keywords of each essential questions.
  6. Open Reliable Web Pages: Students should sift through the research on the suggested web pages, (it will open a new tab) finding the information that answers their essential questions.
  7. Copy and Paste in Notes Document: Under each essential question, students should copy from the webpage, and paste the information into their “Notes” Doc (tab should still be open). This will allow students to just gather information relevant to their search, but also drop the URL in the footnotes section. (More on that later!) Students should continue gathering research until they feel they have enough to adequately answer their essential questions.
  8.  Print Notes: Blasphemy! I thought we were going paperless? At this point, I find it best for students to come to my class with a paper version of their notes. Here I would talk to them about taking the information and making it their own, you know, NOT PLAGIARIZING!
  9. The Rest of the Writing Process: Here you would do all that good stuff about good introductions, thesis, strong paragraphs with evidence, conclusion, blah, blah blah. But this blog isn’t about that. So back to the computers we go!
  10. Create a Bibliography: Easybib is absolutely brilliant. I mean, why would anyone want to do all that nonsense himself? Students have all the URLs from their note-taking document. Simply copy and paste into Easybib and Viola! A bibliography. Keep in mind Easybib is an Add-on, so it will need to be installed. It really is the easiest citation generator.

Researching the internet can be a crazy endeavor. Teaching kids to do it can be even worse. Getting them to focus and explicitly giving them skills in which to do it is the answer. This is one way, one tool in the ol’ tool belt, to navigate the enormity of the world wide web. Good luck! Let me know how it goes.

Look out! It’s the Internet: Teaching Digital Citizenship

The beauty of being the only 8th grade language arts teacher on my campus is that I don’t need to coordinate my lessons with anyone. The other side of that coin: I have no one with whom to collaborate. Luckily, I have the internet. Sometime in early August, I had the idea to start the year with a unit on digital citizenship. Since my focus will be digital literacy this year, I figured it was wise.

Common Sense Media has a great program. They break it down into lessons that could be easily implemented, with little preparation from the teacher, each in one class period. The material is age appropriate (there are three ranges), and has engaging activities for students, plus informative material for the instructor. You could easily hand the unit to a first year teacher and have success. Plus, there is a mass of additional resources and ideas for projects.

Enter Mrs. Allison, the language arts teacher. I knew I had to do more than simply get them thinking about how to behave online. I needed to attack my Common Core Standards. I started with the units Digital 101 and Scams and Schemes. With these, we set up our interactive notebooks, taking Cornell style notes, and reflecting on what we’d learned. Next, I tackled Cyberbullying. Here I stayed for almost two weeks. Two weeks! What was supposed to be a class period or two, took on a life of its own.

I had their attention, so I needed to take advantage. I pulled an article and went through the steps of critical reading, underlining and annotating. I pulled in videos from the Common Sense Media site. We also watched Amanda Todd’s video. We held our first Socratic Seminar. Students wrote their first blog on their websites. The topic of cyberbullying turned out to be great fodder to teach the beginning of the year required skills.

We ended the unit with Trillion Dollar Footprint, which was my favorite of all the lessons in the program. The activity involves the students trying to pick a host for a television show. Included is all the candidates’ social media posts. It’s eye opening for most of the students. So many still have no clue that the world can see what they do online. Of course, I also taught them how to cite evidence. Language arts geek!

Schools have long taken it upon themselves to teach kids how to be good human beings: be responsible, be respectful. It’s equally important to teach digital citizenship. It’s easy to find the time if you incorporate teaching the skills you cover anyway.

“How should you behave online?” I ask my students. In chorus, “The same way you should behave in person.” Exactly.

Ice Cold Trends

It takes a certain kind of crazy to teach middle school: a fact that really goes without saying. The profession attracts people with certain qualities. I fit that mold rather perfectly. Crazy dress days, ridiculous dance routines at rallies, practical jokes on other teachers:  I’m game for it all. So I thought. When one of our teachers suggested we do the ALS ice bucket challenge, I believe my eyes audibly rolled. Not because I have any aversion to getting a large bucket of ice dumped on me in front of the entire school, but because I was so sick of watching video after video in my social media feeds of wet, screaming heads. I mean if everyone was doing it, it can’t be “cool” anymore, right? (Yeah, at moments I still think I might be cool.)

Ignoring my “coolness” dilemma, I decided to get involved. I even helped organize. Then I did some research. The fundraising numbers since this challenge began are staggering. The ALS Association has never raised this much money in such a short amount of time. After talking to a few staff members, I learned of a friend of theirs, a local principal stricken with ALS. She is now confined to a wheelchair due to the disease. We decided to collect from our staff and students on her behalf. More than anything, it was important to me for our students to realize the point of the whole challenge. They had seen the countless videos, too, and even laughed at the “fail” collages on Youtube. The sensation is ubiquitous. At the very least, I hoped my middle schoolers would walk away that day with an understanding of the reasons behind the craze. More importantly, I wanted them to realize that sometimes it is important that we think beyond ourselves and give to others.

I also concluded that getting a bucket of ice poured over my head might be the coolest I would ever be. So, cheers to all of you out there who continue the ice bucket challenge. As an educator, I am always trying to make what I teach relevant. What is more relevant than teaching kids human compassion?  Even if everyone is doing it.