Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Currently, I teach an 8th grade class that focuses solely on research, and my two Senior classes writing research papers. For the last several days, I have listened to students complain that they can’t find enough information for their papers. I have explained that there are books written on many of the topics they have chosen. The problem is not a lack of information. It’s just knowing how to find it.

With Google, Yahoo, Bing, and all the other search engines out there, finding information should be easy. Really, compared to the way research was done 15 or 20 years ago, it is easier. Let me rephrase that; it is a whole lot easier, but I don’t know that I would go so far as to say that it is “easy.”

Research is hard work, even with all the tools that the Web provides. Take a service that searches database archives such as Ebsco Host. Finding good information still takes time, patience, and a certain amount of skill. I am yet to discover a means of finding good information on the Web without work, and this doesn’t only apply to scholarly study. All sorts of information that will help me live a more productive and fulfilling life sits at my fingertips.

Last year, Amber Case gave a TED talk titled “We are all Cyborgs now.” In her talk, she explains how the technology we use, specifically computers and smartphones, become an extension of our brains. While there is some harsh criticism on her ideas, I think she is right in the sense that I no longer have to remember every important fact that I hear and read. I just have to have a means of getting back to that information when I need it in the future. In other words, I have to know how to find it.

The cool thing is that I also have instant access to all sorts of facts and information that I have never heard before. I see the Web as an extension of our brain that is connected to everyone’s brain who uses the internet as depository for what they have learned or even thought and imagined.

It is this thinking and imagining thing that makes research hard. There is so much information packed into this “extension” of our brain, that we have to learn to discern what is good and what is bad. Doing this can make our real brain hurt at times!

Students (and teachers) need to realize that finding good information is hard work. There is no easy way to do it. However, the effort and discipline is worth it and necessary because after wading through the junk, there is a seemingly infinite amount of knowledge to be accessed.

Just think of the advantage a person has who possesses the knowledge of how to find information using the Web.



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Today, I observed a class that was using to organized ideas in preparation for writing an essay. The students are reading To Kill a Mockingbird and are writing various essays on the story. Often times, the students have an idea of what they want to write about but don’t know how to organize their thoughts.

This is where can be helpful. It is one of those apps that can be used in any classroom at any grade level.

Students  start with an idea and flesh it out by inserting ideas into bubbles. The bubbles can then be connected and color coded giving a visual representation of the connections between ideas. This also gives a very visual representation of ideas that don’t work together.

Really, there’s not much more to say about that app. It is simple to use but can be powerful in helping students organize ideas and get them onto paper.

I can already hear someone out there asking, “Well, can’t that be done on paper?” Of course it can, and it is a great idea if your students don’t have access to a computer. However, if students can get on a computer, this is so much cooler than doing the same thing on paper!


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Yesterday, I worked with a teacher to find some online resources for a unit on allusions that she was getting ready to teach. We wanted to find some good resources that showed allusions to Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman from television shows and from movies.

I will admit, that at first, I was not sure how much we were going to find. I did a search with “emily dickinson allusion” and found a lot about the allusions in her poetry, but did not see anything under these search terms that showed allusions to her poetry. I did learn that she made many allusions to Shakespeare, so we might use some of them for the unit. I wanted more.

The whole key with Google is having the right search terms, and this takes some thinking as well as some trial and error. Anyone that has ever watched students do research on a computer knows that most of them put in a few words, hit search, and start taking notes. This is usually done whether or not they find what they were looking for. Students need to learn how to dig. They need to learn that there is definitely a world of information out there, but it doesn’t always come easy, even though we are led to believe that the computer makes this all a simple process. Granted, research is much simpler in the sense that we don’t have to look through shelves of books in the library, but we still have to look. Sometimes it’s hard.

In this case of looking for allusions, I spent about a half hour trying out different words combinations before I started to find what I was looking for. The key was the phrase “pop culture.” I typed in “emily dickinson allusion pop culture” and found an article that references a television show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that makes several allusions to Dickinson.  From here on out, it was like a flood of information. With in another hour, I had all the information I wanted on Dickinson and Whitman as well as some really good allusion to Frost. We were ready to teach.

I don’t know how many searches I make in a day, but my job depends on the information I dig up. If a computer isn’t working right, I search and find others who have had the same problem. If a teacher wants a good short video to go with a unit, I search for it. I will be the first to admit that I have a horrible memory, but that doesn’t matter much anymore as long as I can get an internet connection. An entire world of knowledge is at my fingertips, if I know how to access it. Let’s make sure that our students understand this. The future of our world depends on it!

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I did a  little poking around this morning on the topic of comics as a teaching tool in the classroom. I did this primarily because of the sites that I have been looking at lately that have students creating their own comics. It turns out that there has been a considerable amount of time and money spent on researching comics in the classroom. The best article I found in my brief research was on the web site Comics in Education by Gene Yang which is the result of his Master’s project.

What I find funny about this whole thing is that we are now in the year 2010 and the research on this topic was seriously started in the 1940’s. People were worried that comic books were going to be the downfall of society as it was currently known. This sounds a lot like thoughts in the recent past on T.V., computers, personal music devices,etc. The truth, according to the research, is that comics are an excellent resource for the classroom.

I really like this quote from W. Sones on Yang’s website:

“The potency of the picture story is not a matter of modern theory but of anciently established truth. Before man thought in words, he felt in pictures… It’s too bad for us “literary” enthusiasts, but it’s the truth nevertheless, pictures tell any story more effectively than words.”  W. Sones (1944)

Those drawings that have been found painted in caves and on the walls of cliffs around the world were the first comics. They were stories told with pictures. They were the first means of communication beyond sounds. They were the first literature. We can read them today and still understand, to some extent, what message the ancient authors were trying to convey.

Using comics as a tool in education just makes sense. Who does not enjoy reading a comic? I think that some of the problem comes in seeing comics as a childish way to read. People who read well don’t need any pictures because they “see” the pictures in their heads.  Isn’t that what we have been told (and probably taught)? The research definitely says otherwise.

To learn more about why all teachers should consider comics in the classroom, take the time to read through the rest of Yang’s site. Another interesting research source is Comics: A multi-dimensional teaching aid in integrated skills classes.

The bottom line is that teachers need to take comics to the classroom.

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