Do What I Say, Not What I Do

How often do we tell kids to just, “Go look it up on the Internet”? When we do we are making the assumption that they already know how to search and find the information they need.  But what happens if they don’t? Here’s what you get…

Observed from actual students this month:

  • A student searching for images depicting modes of travel used by 49’ers to get to California during the gold rush went to Google and typed: travelling to california.
  • Another student who was working on their state report wanted to find out the average climate for their state and searched: weather for Illinois

Do you think these students received the results they were expecting? Here are some other searches I observed:

  • massachusetts land
  • poler pears
  • soccer the sport
  • all about the gold rush history
  • general description on michigan

What kind of results do you think they got? “Massachusetts land” yielded more real estate results than info about state geography. “Polar pears” worked okay thanks to the “did you mean” feature that corrects for spelling errors. The last three on the list gave the students fairly acceptable results, but these results could have been achieved with considerably more abbreviated search terms.

Once these kids had gotten over the hurdle of getting the right search terms, the next challenge for them was actually finding the information they wanted. Watching kids search the web looks a lot like channel surfing. They click on the first search result. If “the answer” doesn’t fall out of the sky and into their lap in 5 seconds, they hit the back button and go to another site or type in a new search. Most never scroll down. They rarely click other links. And if the page comes up all text they’re off to the next site faster than you can say “Google”.

Finally, when students actually DO manage to find the information they need, what do they do with it? One unfortunate answer was captured quite nicely in a tweet from this morning:

SO…my final question for you today is this.

What can we do to to help kids find and use information efficiently and appropriately?

In my mind it starts with teachers modeling proper search techniques and demonstrating appropriate use and citations in the classroom. Don’t just tell kids to go look it up in the Internet, show them. Help them take the question they are asking and break it into key words for searching. Then demonstrate how to navigate pages, look at information critically to find the answer to their question. Finally show them how to use that information properly and cite the source. Let them see you do it. I love this quote from Bill Selak, retweeted several times at EdCamp OC/LA last month.

By the way, do you want to really frustrate an elementary student? Tell them to take something (from a book, a web site, whatever) and put it in their own words. Look at it from their point of view. You’re asking them to take something that’s already written and change it when it looks just fine to them. The flaw is not in the student, but in the assignment. Ask a kid to write a report, you might as well be telling them to copy and paste. Rather then just asking them to regurgitate information, require them to take that information and create something new and original. (See my post “Fight Plagiarism with Creativity”)

Do What I Do, Not What I Say

Just like the media makes living out of catching politicians who say one thing and do something else, kids are pretty good at noticing when we tell them to do something, but then don’t do the same thing themselves. Your actions speak louder than your words.

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