Last, I wrote how gDocs has greatly helped my students collaborate with each other and how it has also helped me work with them during class time. A second issue that middle school students (and I would wager much older students) struggle with is to keep track of sources. Like hummingbirds that flit from flower to flower, they bounce from web page to web page. An idea is poached from one place, snagged from another, linked from another and when it’s all said and done, they have no idea where information came from.
Earlier this year, I read a post (I think it was by Richard Byrne but I’m not positive) on the Google Research Tool. Tucked under the “Tools” tab, the Research button opens up a new pane within the document that a student is working in. I modeled with students – we are discussing environmental problems and it turns out a massive coal powered plant is in their back yard. They had no idea! Opening up a new document, I showed how to get the research screen.
The research pane allows students to conduct a search directly from the document they are working on, but a few additional features make it work better for students.
Hovering over an interesting search result gives several options:
1. Preview: this will open the web page on another tab so the student can decide whether or not it is useful.
2. Insert Link: this places the link of the webpage into the student’s document.
3. Cite – this creates a footnote. Awesome! In my example, a footnote of 1 was placed beside Taichung Power Plant. In the document’s footer, the following text (linked to the source page) was automatically inserted:
“Taichung power plant world’s worst polluter: survey – Taipei Times.” 2008. 19 Apr. 2013 <http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/biz/archives/2008/09/04/2003422196>
I encourage my students to make a brief write-up of each source as they work. They include important details and how the source helps the ideas they are developing. Later, the list of sources at the bottom can be turned into a citation page if necessary.
A recent teacher conversation I observed went along the lines of my students can’t do research. They just type everything into Google and hope for the best.
As teachers, we need to take a step back and realize if it is not us giving students the skills to research and use technology, who is? Somewhere along the line, “old school” book research and index cards got left on the curb. Those skills were taught, though as a student I admit it was quite painful. In many situations, a replacement was not put into place. The web is there. Go research. Students still need to be taught how to use the vast resources available to them.
I like the citation feature of the gResearch tool because it is easy for students to begin developing habits of crediting sources and keeping track of information flow. I currently teach science and math but it is my responsibility to help students now what tools can help them in an academic setting.