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April 27, 2011 / Sarah Ludwig

The research before the research

I’ve been working closely with sixth grade lately on research (see two previous posts) and today we started the presearch unit. It was great! The social studies teacher worked very closely with me on helping the students narrow down or broaden their topics. Each student had to presearch three separate terms and look them up in one of the resources that I selected for them. They then had to write down one important piece of information about that topic and determine whether or not they would use the resource.

It was fascinating for me to watch the way the students selected their terms. Last week, we talked about what doesn’t always work with using “real” language to search: for example, typing in what are some ways to stop global warming. We looked at the Google results for such a page and talked about how Google pulls key words from websites to determine its results list. Typing in the phrase above will find pages with all of those words in it, but not necessarily in the way we expect. In addition, when we searched for “alternative fuels,” the first two “results” were from oil companies. So then we had the opportunity to talk about sponsored links and how they get there – and why we might not want to trust information about alternative fuels on an oil company website.

The greatest thing happened when the kids were searching procon.org for information. One student added the following “fact” to his “important piece of information” field:

Fossil fuels are the most economical choice.

At first the teacher was like, um, that is out of date, gas is four dollars a gallon. So we had him go back to the page to check the date, but it had been updated last week. It then occurred to us, almost simultaneously, that he should find the exact phrase he’d taken his notes from. That phrase was:

Opponents contend that … fossil fuels will last hundreds of years longer, be made increasingly efficient, remain the most economical choice, and that reliance on inefficient alternative energies will hurt the economy.

Interesting! The teacher immediately called everyone’s attention to the screen and read the phrase to them, and what followed was an excellent illustration of how to read information and interpret it. This is exactly how students end up with misinformation in their projects: they don’t read for context, but instead quickly scan the page and grab anything they can that looks like it can be inserted into a paper.

Presearch continues next week. I love it!

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2 Comments

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  1. Andrew Niblock / Apr 27 2011 2:44 pm

    Presearch is brilliant! It’s a great way to explore the process of internet research, learning what makes for a hit and what makes for a goose chase. The students and faculty are lucky to have you guiding them with this!

    • sarahludwig / Apr 28 2011 1:45 pm

      Thanks, Andrew! I’ve really loved this unit.

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