I feel like there are four main areas that education should be focusing on to best prepare our students for success in life: Communication and Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Creativity and Innovation, and Research and Information Fluency. If we are empowering students to use these skills and strategies to drive their own learning, then they will be better equipped to succeed outside of the school environment. This last article in this series focuses on projects and tools that will help students develop their Research and Information Fluency skills.
Projects that naturally involve students in using research and information fluency skills include:
- Design Thinking – The design thinking process has been its way into classrooms. Research is actually a key component in several of the phases. With the empathy stage, we are asking students to research via observation (sometimes there is more to it, but this is the main method of research here). *See the link under STEM projects for a fantastic PD opportunity.*
- Genius Hour – Genius hour is also sometimes referred to as Passion Projects or 20% Time. It’s not the name of the amount of time we spend here as much as the fact that these projects are focused completely on something of interest to the individual student. There is always a question being asked and/or a problem being solved. Much research goes into coming up with a viable solution.
- STEM projects – No one will argue that STEM learning opportunities are not important to today’s student. I’ve seen some amazing work in classrooms around STEM, and I’ve seen some that are a bit lacking. Here’s what I don’t like: “STEM” time as 30 minutes at the end of the day on Friday. Science, Technology, Engineering and/or Math are integrated throughout everything we do/think during a day. Therefore, those learning opportunities should be woven throughout the content and curriculum (just as teaching reading strategies should be). It’s not an “add-on” but a more comprehensive way of teaching and learning. Educators need additional professional development on how to do this in authentic ways. Manuel Herrera and I have partnered with ROBO 3D to provide just that. Here is an example of a “getting started” workshop, but any professional learning plan around STEM, design thinking, and/or 3D printing can be customized to each district’s need. Please reach out to learn more.
- Project Based Learning (PBL) – PBL is one of the best frameworks for authentic student-driven learning. Many teachers shy away from trying a PBL unit because they are intimidated by the time and seemingly lack of structure. There is actually a lot of teacher guidance in a PBL unit, and the structure provided helps empower students while giving teachers the freedom to facilitate the process. Jorge Valenzuela is part of the national faculty with PBL Works and a leader on the topic. Edutopia frequently publishes articles on PBL, as well, for those looking to learn more.
- Research Projects – I am a firm believer that every student should be conducting research projects on a regular basis. Those that are designed correctly, will pull in all of the four areas I mentioned at the beginning of this article. I am especially fond of this project created by a third-grade teacher I worked with in Pflugerville, TX. It allowed for several areas of student choice (i.e. topic, group role, type of presentation, questions to be researched), gave students the opportunity to choose from a variety of reliable digital resources and gave them the purpose of synthesizing and assembling their research into a cohesive multimedia project to share with peers. This one was pretty extensive, but research projects can be as big or as small as the teacher chooses. They can take one or two class periods or they can take a couple of weeks. The point is to have students choose a topic, construct questions, and conduct reliable research to enhance their learning.
There are many tools and resources to use to foster research and information fluency skills. We don’t want students relying on the teacher as the sole expert in the classroom, just like we don’t want them just choosing the top link displayed in a Google search. Some tools and strategies that help students as they learn these skills include:
- Google Scholar and Explore
- Websites already known for their validity:
- Those ending in .edu, .gov
- Wolfram Alpha
- Part of building research and information fluency skills is ensuring that our students are responsible Digital Citizens. That includes citing sources and making sure they have copyright permission to use images in projects and papers. Many adults simply take any image they want off of a Google image search, but those are not all copyright free. Teach students to conduct image searches in places like Creative Commons and within applications like Sway, Adobe Spark, PowerPoint, Google Drive apps that already vet these rights for us.
- Triangulating Data: This is simply how I explain to students that if they are just searching the internet for information, then they need to triangulate their data by finding the same bit of information on, at least, three different websites. The triangle is a helpful visual to remind them to validate their research.
Giving students regular opportunities to conduct research will increase their digital literacy skills. Do you have a favorite tool or method?