Posts Tagged ‘Research Process’

April 5 Webinar: Hot Points – Current Events and Digital Tools

April 1st, 2012 Comments off

Current events teaching has never been juicier. Up to the second information on events from all points of the four winds can be easily gathered, disseminated and pored over using digital tools. Videos from within the Occupy Wall Street camp, tweets from observers and players in the Arab Spring uprising and the ability to communicate with anyone at the center of a news story via iChat means that students now have a more immediate connection to events than most journalists had fifteen years ago. And with traditional news sources sometimes struggling to compete with the constant flow of information, our students have never been in a better position to show their flair as budding journalists.

This webinar demonstrated how students can access information and turn it into a news story – making sense of multiple sources, applying a clear vision and creating news stories of their own. We discussed some of the drawbacks to the mass of unfiltered information, and how we can help our students become objective reporters and informed opinion makers.

Here are the links I shared in the webinar:

Newsmap: a visual representation of the Google News aggregator

Google News: Try customising the page using the Preference sliders

Newsvine: user voted news stories – a good place to take the temperature of the news

Newseum’s Today’s Front Pages: over 900 front pages from the world’s newspapers, update daily.

MARVEL: ProQuest News
database is a fantastic resource for searching through 1400+ publications from around the world, with many publication’s articles going back at least a decade.

In addition, we looked at YouTube’s capabilities for up to the minute footage of events, and iTunes Store’s News and Politics Podcasts. Google Earth can provide background on the areas where events are taking place, and the World Data Analyst on MARVEL can help with statistics on each country.

Image by Giladlotan on Flickr. Used with a Creative Commons License CC BY-NC 2.0

October 28 Webinar: Accessing the Past – Using Primary Sources Digitally

October 22nd, 2010 Comments off

Powerful connections and understandings can be made when a student is able to use primary source material in their work. Their interpretation of documents, letters, photographs, films, contemporary reports and objects creates new learning and meaning, by placing the world of yesterday in the framework of our world today.

For too long, access to primary source material has been limited to museums, archives, historical societies as well as attics and basements. Now, with a growing movement to make digital copies of this material available online, access to primary source material is unprecedented for the student researcher. This access obviously brings great benefits, but also challenges: finding the material, storing the copies, and creating high quality digital copies that are accessible to all.

This webinar will discuss and demonstrate how students can create digital copies of primary source material available in their local area, and make the copies available to online users. We will talk about standards for digital copies of material, and work with tools that can be used in this process. In addition, we will look at online collections that are available for use, and discuss ways in which students can use the material found in collections.There will also be a chance to share your own experiences of using primary source material, both with students and from your own work.

This webinar is a precursor to the Maine Council for Social Studies conference on Friday, November 12. For more details on this conference, please visit

This session will be delivered on Thursday, October 28, at 3:15 PM and again at 7:15 PM. For information and to register, please choose the WebCasts tab at the top of this page.

Thanks to Jim Moulton for the image, showing a letter from Charles Potter from Bowdoin, ME, dated Aug 14, 1835.

Webinar Recap: Evaluating Resources and Publishing Student Work

June 19th, 2010 Comments off

Students are often cast on to a desert island of research and asked to find the resources they need to help them find their way back to civilization. They may have received little or no instruction in how to tell if a resource is reliable, which can often make the process of research a bewildering and sometimes frustrating endeavor. As teachers, we need to help our students in evaluating resources, make them aware of what constitutes a reliable source of information, and alert them to the pitfalls.

In Thursday’s webinar, I put forward four questions we can have students ask themselves when they begin to evaluate a web resource:
“Why was this site created?”
“Who’s paying for this?”
“Why does the site look like this?”
and “Can the same information be found elsewhere?”

These questions begin to establish the motivation of the site’s creators, what message they are trying to convey, and the all important piece that student’s often struggle with: can the information be verified?

We discussed some pointers that students can use to gauge the reliability of a resource, which included authority, bias, design, transparency and currency. The feelings of the participants in the webinar was that there is no one pointer toward reliability, especially not domain names, which are often regarded as a guarantee of trust.

Students can use citation generators to help them establish the credibility of a resource. By filling in reference, students have to be able to identify certain information from a site that helps them critique it more thoroughly. Two citation generators available online: Easybib and Son of Citation Machine.

Using a social bookmarking site can give  a student a quick glimpse at how many people have at least looked at a site, and why that may be useful site to peruse. Delicious and Diigo are two such social bookmarking sites.

Some further website evaluation tools to take a peek at:

USM Library Website Evaluation Checklist

C-TEC Website Evaluation Form
Kathy Schrock’s ABCs of Website Evaluation (dated, but still a great guide)

In the webinar we also discussed the publishing of student work, really the end result of conducting and organizing research for a student. There are many benefits for publishing to the student, such as raising confidence in writing for an audience and the ability to receive feedback from someone other than a teacher. Many of these points have been covered in previous webinars by my colleague’s Barbara Greenstone and Phil Brookhouse: please check out their work if you haven’t yet done so.

There are many paces in which students can get their work into a wider audience:
Using blogs is an interesting method of creating an ongoing discussion and feedback. One place that caters to student blogs is Edublogs.
A wiki can be created so that only members can critique a piece of work, which can be of benefit when considering the age and maturity of a student. Wikispaces works well in this aspect.
There are dedicated sites to publishing student work, many can be found with a websearch Teen Ink is one such space.
Student wok can also be published in non-traditional, text-based format. Google Earth Community is a space for publishing files created in Google Earth, and can be a fun format for students to focus their research findings. Podcasts can be created and published on Podbean, for the delight of the world. And our old friend YouTube is a reliable space to host video.

I’m also making an impassioned plea not to do away with the school magazine! Many schools have a goal to be paperless, however I believe this is one bit of paper we should keep out of the trash. The school magazine can hold many pieces of student work, is easily distributed amongst peers and has a sentimental value that can last many years. I myself still have copies of my old school magazine, and do not plan on getting rid of them. With the publishing and productivity tools available on the MLTI devices, professional and attractive looking magazines are straightforward and achievable.

Be sure to watch a recording of the webinar – click on the tab marked ‘Webcasts’ above, then ‘Archives’, and locate the June 17th 2010 recording.

June 17th Webinar: Evaluating Resources and Publishing Student Work

June 15th, 2010 5 comments

Wide angle view or strong focus? Current or timeless? Authoritative or opinionated? Both? Neither? Students have it hard these days, navigating web resources to find the information that will attend to their questions. In this webinar, we’ll attempt to help our students out with a few pointers, rules of thumb and a dose of sound judgement when it comes to evaluating digital resources. We’ll also discuss the various avenues available to students for publishing their research findings, why this is a good idea and what to do with the feedback they receive.

This session will be delivered on Thursday, June 17, at 3:15 PM and again at 7:15 PM. For information and to register, please choose the WebCasts tab at the top of this page.

Image by Bill Sodemann on Flickr,

The Research Process – Copyright and Fair Use: Notes from the May 6 Webinar

May 7th, 2010 1 comment

Copyright, or to be more specific, the use  and misuse of copyrighted materials, is a subject that is surrounded by much confusion and therefore fear for many educators. Students who have known nothing but the internet in schools need direct instruction and guidance on what they can be using from online sources, and also how to protect their original work they post. As educators, we should be learning as much as we can about the use of copyrighted material, and then helping our students navigate this legal mountain range.

Some of the ins and outs of copyright law and fair use are covered by information in the links below. This should not be considered a comprehensive list, and neither should you consider my attempts to explain copyright law as legal advice! Please consult as many sources as possible, and if you’re still confused, I’m sure your school has legal consults available.

Copyright overview and history:
US Copyright Office

Copyrightkids – Fun resource to get students thinking about copyright issues

Copyright and Fair Use in The Classroom – Interesting guide to copyright, from a college perspective.

History of Copyright Law – Wikipedia page does a great job pulling together a complicated history.

Copyright Infringement

Carol Simpson – Consultant on issues of copyright, has an interesting database of cases concerning copyright infringement in schools.

Do The (Copy)right Thing – Article on educator’s lack of attention to copyright from thejounal

Fair Use

Code of Best Practice for Fair Use in Media Literacy Education – Download the document from this page.
A Fair(y) Use Story–  Video mashup of various Disney movies to make a statement on fair use of copyrighted materials.

User Rights, Section 107 – Music video explaining the tenets of fair use.

Bound By Law? – Thanks to Barbara Greenstone for the link to this comic explaining copyright and fair use.

Copyright / Copywrong Quiz – Thanks to Cynthia Curry for forwarding the link to this quiz on fair use in education.

The Shepard Fairy Obama “Hope” Poster Controversy – Thanks once again to Cynthia Curry

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

Search engine for Creative Commons licensed work. Also available on the Firefox browser search tool.

Creative Commons on Flickr

Be sure to watch the recorded webinar sessions by clicking on the Webcast>Arcives tab above.

May 6 Webinar: The Research Process – Copyright and Fair Use

May 3rd, 2010 Comments off

As new media forms test the boundaries of existing copyright laws, educators can be left feeling uncertain as to how they can be using media in education, what they shouldn’t be copying, and how students use media as part of their school work. File sharing, sampling and remixing, downloading and podcasting all present new methods of distributing information, but how can educators go about this without getting themselves in hot water? This webinar will look at some of the issues around copyright that affect schools, begin a discussion on Fair Use of copyrighted materials, and how to avoid any trouble with copyright altogether.

This session will be delivered on Thursday, May 6, from 3:15 – 4:15 pm and 7:15 – 8:15 pm. For information, please access the WebCasts tab at the top of this page.

Image from the Library of Congress

Original Research: Notes from March 25 Webinars

March 26th, 2010 Comments off

Original research can be defined as the collection of information and data from observations and measurements conducted as part of an investigation. Original research generates new knowledge around a subject, and is undertaken in order to produce new understanding.

It’s important that we have our students conduct an original research project, and have students construct that project from inception. By having students actively generate questions, measure phenomenon in the field, observe and reflect upon processes, we will be able to see the following benefits reveal themselves. Firstly, there is a deeper engagement in the curriculum. If students are taking an active role in developing new understanding, they will grasp the root of learning more readily than taking a passive, consumer of information role. Secondly, the development of communication skills is observable, as students write and rewrite the questions that will collect the data and information desired. In addition, by having students conduct interviews, listening and questioning skills are acquired, more so than in regular curriculum delivery methods. Students become more discerning  consumers of other people’s research: having understood the process of conducting research themselves, their critical thinking skills will be applied to other information they receive. Finally, student’s connections to their community can be strengthened by conducting research in a local area.

The Vital Signs program at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute offers teachers and students the structure and support to conduct original research, focussing on the monitoring of invasive plant and animal species in Maine. Sarah Kirn, the manager for the Vital Signs program, joined me for the webinar to discuss how Vital Signs seeks to develop student’s skills in data collection, data review and putting the data to work in understanding the concepts of biology and ecology. Teachers are trained in the various parts of the process, and then use these skills to conduct fieldwork with their students, looking for the presence (or non presence, hopefully) of invasive species in their local area. The data collected is peer reviewed, then uploaded to the Vital Signs online database, where it is further reviewed by experts in the field. The data is available for use online, by students, educators, scientists, and anyone who has an interest in monitoring the spread of invasive species. Students take on the role of scientists, and contribute data to a functioning and important set of scientific knowledge, available to the world.

Some examples of these observations from the field can be found on the Vital Signs site:

Vital Signs, and original research as a whole, fits into the science curriculum tool currently being used to guide curriculum development in Maine. ‘Ready, Set, Science!’, published by the National Academies Press (available to be read free online: promotes science learning as the interplay of four strands, one of which is generating scientific knowledge. By having students take part in research, reflect upon this research and produce new knowledge from this information, science learning, and indeed any curriculum area learning, is multiplied and made more concrete.

If you are interested in learning more about the Vital Signs program, please send an email to this address, letting the folks at GMRI where you heard about the program and the interest you have in their work.

Vital Signs run a summer institute that trains teachers to conduct Invasive Species monitoring programs with their students.  The two and three day institutes provide all the training and equipment necessary to take students into the field. Participants are provided with a stipend for their time. For more information, please contact the Vital Signs team, and visit the site. The dates of this year’s institutes are July 7-8, and August 18 – 20.

Other links shared as part of the webinar:

Introductory video for students heading out to look for crayfish, as part of the Vital Signs program – a connection with scientists:

Some online tools to help with information collection:

Surveymonkey, GoogleDocs and Skype

The 2010 Census:

Main Page, Census for Teachers

March 25 Webinar: Original Research

March 22nd, 2010 Comments off

Our students are in an unprecedented position of being able to gather, sort and reflect upon information and data with ease and precision. Digital tools available on the MLTI devices and online give students the ability to record observations, conduct interviews, collect data and then use this information to produce meaningful results. By conducting original research, students can better understand ‘real world’ phenomenon and contribute their learning to a wider knowledge base.

My co-presenter for this webinar will be Sarah Kirn, Program Manager for the Vital Signs project, part of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s educational outreach. Sarah will be taking us through how the Vital Signs project uses original research by student and citizen scientists to build a picture of the spread of invasive species through the state. The process of collecting data through fieldwork, contributing the data to the Vital Signs database, and using the data in analysis creates a powerful learning experience for students, as well as raising their aspirations for science careers.

We will also look at other ways students can take advantage of digital tools to conduct original research, and how this can be part of a wider research process.

Please click on the Webcast link to register for or join the 3.15 and 7.15 webinar.

In addition to the webinars. MLTI and GMRI are offering a workshop that introduces teachers to working with Vital Signs data with students during the week of March 24 – 31. For more details, please visit the MLTI site.

February 11 Webinar – Structuring a Research Project

February 8th, 2010 4 comments

My guest this month will be Richard Byrne, award winning writer of the blog ‘Free Tech 4 Teachers’. He’ll be joining me to talk about how students can utilize tools both on the MLTI image and online to structure and carry out a research project. Richard is adept at finding creative and powerful educational uses for thousands of web resources and tools, and he’ll be highlighting and demonstrating many examples. We’ll also talk about great ways students can keep track of their research, and collaborate to build a network of research around a topic.

To register for the webinar and join on the day, please click on the ‘Webcasts’ tab above, and navigate to the February 11 links.

Questions, Questions: Notes from the January 7th Webinar

January 11th, 2010 2 comments

Thanks to all who joined myself and Sylvia Norton for the webinar last Thursday, and especially for the responses and questions that really helped to frame and guide the discussion.

The webinar was a two parter, the first part looking at getting the research process underway by looking at essential questions, the building blocks of a research project, and the second part looking at MARVEL, Maine’s virtual library.

Looking at essential questions, I tried to uncover what makes an essential question ‘essential’. Some thoughts on this: Essential questions are both the jumping off point for the research process, and the overarching theme of the project undertaken. An essential question is the big idea, crafted to stimulate thought and ideas, and a proven method of sustained inquiry.

An essential question is not looking for a definitive answer, and truly should not be answered. It should be a recurring question at every stage of the research process, to keep the student focussed and also to stimulate deeper inquiry.

Here are some examples of essential questions that have been used by participants in the webinar:

‘What makes music great?’

‘How does geography impact culture?’

‘How are people’s lives influenced by war?’

‘Why is economic development uneven across the globe?’

These questions have many points of entry, and the work that students will create from these questions will be varied, multi textured and personal.

During the webinar, I attempted to deconstruct the essential question into it’s particular  elements. What makes an essential question essential?

Firstly, it’s open ended. It invites different avenues of thought, it encourages diversity in attempting to answer it, and very possibly it has no definitive answer. There are no incorrect responses to an essential question.

Secondly, it is open to interpretation. This means that all students can access the question, and have an intellectual and personal response to the question. For a research project where students must demonstrate critical thinking and judgement, this is important. Students must be able to connect to the concepts under study to make the work authentic.

It is worth noting here again that the essential question is the jumping off point for a research project. When students are first presented with an essential question, a period of reflection and initial information gathering should take place, to start to formulate the direction a student will take in the project. Our job as the teacher here is to guide the student in creating secondary, or foundational, questions that the student is asking about the theme or topic. We can help to solidify thoughts and make their ideas about the project more manageable.

Essential questions should be provocative. Intellectual juices should start flowing, and a hunger for knowledge should develop. The questions should be engaging, and therefore ag appropriate for the students in the class. An assessment of prior knowledge should be part of the the formulation of the essential question, to make sure that students can access the ideas behind it.

Finally, essential questions present an opportunity for new learning for every student. This means that they need to be wide ranging, in order to encompass every student’s experience, and not too focussed so that it will elicit responses of ‘I already know this’ or ‘We did this last year’.

During the live webinar, I presented the participants with some examples of new learning, and asked them to provide what they thought may have been the essential question that lead to this new knowledge.

The first example, the moon landings of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, elicited these responses:

‘What’s out there?’

‘Where do we go from here?’

‘What makes humans seek beyond themselves?’

‘What are the limits of mankind?’

The second example is Elvis Presley’s first album from 1956, generally considered to be ground zero of rock and roll. Here are the essential questions that lead to this moment:

‘When is ‘different’ better?’

‘How does music influence society?’

‘How can celebrity influence performers?’

‘How does technology change music?’

The thrid and final example is George Orwell’s novel ‘1984’. Here are the responses to this piece of learning:

‘Have dreams become our destiny?’

‘Could this happen to us?’

‘Why do we have government?’

‘When does protection become oppression?’

Some tools that could be used by students when getting to grips with an essential question at the beginning of a project, to help them construct secondary, or foundational questions:

OmniGraffle – concept mapping, to help students find visual links between ideas.

Noteshare Notebook – gather preliminary research findings

Flickr – provide a visual response to a key word search

A wiki – collect group ideas on the essential question

iChat / Skype – for use as a sounding board for ideas around the essential question.

Sylvia Norton, the School Library / Technology Planning Coordinator for the Maine Department of Education, took us on a tour through MARVEL, Maine’s Virtual Library. MARVEL is an unparalleled information portal in the state, a collection of database and catalog resources provided free to the citizens of Maine. Access is via a school / library network, or with a valid Maine library card number. Users have access to thousands of magazine, journal, and newspaper articles, and also books online.

For using with an essential questions, Sylvia first guided us to look at Brittanica Online School Edition, an encyclopedia that sets out to provide the preliminary search with an overview of the topic, with an easy to navigate interface that allows the student user to quickly delve deeper into a topic.

Also noted were the Student Research Center, an EBSCO database, with access to thousands of full text articles, which can be saved in user generated folders for quick access in the future. The beauty of the Student Research Center is that it provides a great visual interface for the researcher, giving them a quick picture of where they would benefit from searching.

Other places that Sylvia discussed as being great places for gathering an overview of a topic, or finding some deeper leads into a research project:

Novelist and Novelist Plus – a database of fiction and non-fiction (Novelist Plus) titles, with plot synopsis and suggestions for further reading. Searchable by title and author, as could be expected, but also by plot type and summary.

Maine Newstand: Full text articles from the five Maine daily newspapers, updated for the most recent editions. In addition to this, ProQuest offers articles from over 500 national and international news sources.

Mentioned as useful by participants, MARVEL also housed ERIC, a collection of articles from education journals. And my personal favorite, for information on wold countries and cultures, is the World Data Analyst, containing up to date statistics on many aspects of every country in the world.

Thanks again to all who joined us, and join us again on February 11th, when I’ll be looking at using digital tools to structure and carry out a research project.