Sunday, January 31, 2010

Resource Depositories

According to Webster, a depository is a place where things are deposited, especially for safekeeping.  This is definitely true for the following online resource list,  The “cybraryman” is a website that has links for everything that has to do with education and more. There are over 20,000 relevant links personally selected by an educator/author with over 30 years of experience. These links are organized according to the categories of parents, students, educators and general interest.  This website has also won many awards, including the following:  

The phenomenal thing about this site is that there are links for everything and they are all live.  I did not find one dead link, which is very unusual and refreshing!  The subcategory I explored was the SMARTBoard list of resources located in the technology list in the educator category.  There are many SMART Board resources here that I have not seen, including articles about professional development for the SMART Board. There are many other articles, lesson plans and links to other interactive resources as well.

In the general interest category of sites, there are links to websites that pertain to marriage, home repair, taxes, helping the less fortunate just to name a few.  I even went there to check out home repair tips.  The cybraryman is quite resourceful!  He is very efficient as well.  He even sent me a direct message “thank you” on Twitter when I asked to follow him! He has definitely left no stone unturned when it comes to Internet resources.  You should definitely check this one out!

This website is a great example of the resources that are available if a person knows where to look.  How do you find these gems?  The answer is Twitter of course!  Using social networks to discover resources is valuable.  Furthermore, social bookmarking sites, such as Delicious, Mister Wong, Simpy and Diigo, are making resource depositories obsolete.  The advantage of social bookmarking sites is that they are resources that have been compiled by people who are selected by you!  The people in your PLN are researching the Internet and filtering out the less desirable resources so you don’t have to!

However you decide to find Internet resources there are plenty out there.  It is important to be discriminating when it comes to using the Internet.  This is definitely a skill we should pass on to our students as well!  

Friday, January 22, 2010

What makes one inquiry-based lesson better than another?

What makes one inquiry-based lesson better than another?  There are many answers to that question and just as many different answers.  In my opinion it is important to start with a quality essential question that allows for students to be able to answer on many different levels with varying degrees of creativity.  Other essential components include opportunities for collaboration, inquiry which leads to a greater understanding, which leads the students to more questioning, encourages synthesis and evaluation, and the acquired facts can be transferred to new situations in a creative format. With this in mind I am very impressed with the following World War II WebQuest.


This WebQuest is very well structured while also allowing students to make their own choices and it includes opportunities for differentiated instruction.  The essential question is powerful and does not have one correct answer.  The students participate in the process of authentic inquiry by collaborating with peers to synthesize the information obtained through research to reach a conclusion.  Students would be further challenged to defend their answer to their peers.

Unfortunately this is not the case with the followingWebQuest.                                                                                                                                         

This inquiry-based lesson does not have much of an introduction or planning section.  Those sections are very important for the students because they essentially structure the project for students to follow and they provide for a successful learning experience.  Furthermore, the rest of the WebQuest does not offer an authentic question or problem, the inquiry process is not significant and the synthesis and evaluation is minimal.  Honestly, I do not believe this WebQuest involves much inquiry or critical thinking, but rather it involves restating ideas.

A well designed WebQuest is one that puts the student in charge of his or her own learning, allows students to use their preferred modality of learning and leads to a greater understanding that can be transferred to other areas of learning. These critical thinking skills are essential or students to acquire so they can become successful problem solvers in life.  After evaluating several WebQuests, it is clear to me that a quality inquiry based project is not easy to find, and that many of them that exist are merely short-answer questions disguised look like WebQuests.  There is definitely a need for more teachers to design quality WebQuests, which can be used effectively in a variety of grade levels for various subjects. 

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Value of Using Internet Resources

        Can you imagine waking up in the morning and not checking your email?  Can you fathom not being able to “Google” something that you wanted to know more about? How would it be to hear something tragic happened in a country across the world and not be able to monitor the news as often as you wanted to? We have become so used to having the Internet at our fingertips that many, if not most people, cannot imagine life without it.  Yet, many educators do not include Internet resources regularly in their teaching. How can this be?  That is like asking students to write a paper and not give them paper and pencil, or asking them to solve advanced math problems without giving them a calculator. Using Internet resources is an integral part of learning for both children and adults.
     The value of using Internet resources in education is immeasurable on so many different levels.   Information can be communicated to large populations in an instant. We are no longer waiting for the five o’clock news to find out what is going on in the world. At any time we have the capability to look on the Internet to find out what is happening just moments after it happens.  The Internet offers not only information in a timely manner, but also resources that would not be available otherwise, such as Google Earth as a tool to learn about geography.  Similarly, the Internet allows us to be able to communicate with others in ways that would also not be possible, such as using Skype.  Students have the opportunity to learn about many different cultures, not from a book, but rather by communicating directly with individuals themselves from around the world.  The possibilities are endless, not only for students to acquire information, but also for them to be able to collaborate with others worldwide.  Collaboration is such an important skill for students to acquire, and the Internet provides the vehicle for students to be able to learn from each other beyond the classroom.  The social networking aspect of the Internet is something many students use proficiently.  An integral part of educating students is instilling a sense of responsibility.  This transfers to using the Internet and social networks.  It is our responsibility as educators to teach students to be ethical and responsible, whether they are in school or not, when participating with online communication of any type.  What a great way to model appropriate online interactions than by using a social networking site as part of a curricular unit!
     Yet we also need to use caution when using Internet resources.  We must teach students how to effectively evaluate what is posted on the Internet and to be critical and not just accept everything as fact just because “it is on the Internet.” This is a valuable skill for students, not just for using Internet resources but also in life itself!  It is equally as important to educate students about online safety and copyright issues.  Now that we have all of the warnings out of the way, how do you go about using Internet resources effectively?
     Should we let students chat to do their homework?  Should we have students work together and collaborate to learn more about the topics we study in school?  The answer is yes!  However, we keep students from being able to do just that.  How?  We block the very websites students use to collaborate.  Why?  I believe it is because many teachers do not feel comfortable using a tool that they are not very familiar with.  The issue is if we really want students to be more engaged in learning in school, then we need to use the tools that they are most comfortable using.  If you are wondering if students are using social networking activities look at the following chart.
     According to the Journal article, Research: Students Actually Use the Internet for Education, “…social networking is increasingly used as a communications and collaboration tool of choice in businesses and higher education. As such, it would be wise for schools, whose responsibility it is to prepare students to transition to adult life with the skills they need to succeed in both arenas, to reckon with it."  The following graph confirms it.  So let’s get more educators to use Internet resources, and even social networking as tools in the classroom.  Who knows, maybe the students will be more successful and even like coming to school!