Tuesday, February 22, 2011

21st Century Research Methods

My ninth grade Honors kids are working on their Wikified Research papers examining “as a society, what we have learned, what haven’t we learned and where are we going.” They are basing their writing off of our studies of George Orwell’s 1984 and Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother.

As I have written about earlier, we have spent considerable time front loading our kids with background information regarding the historical contexts that influenced Orwell and Doctorow. The kids have used Loggel to display their connections.

Period 2 example 1 and example 2

Period 5 example 1 and example 2

Our US History, World Civilization, and Government teachers talked to the kids about what was going on in the world to influence Orwell as well as talk to the kids about current legislation in light of safety and security versus privacy and liberty.

The format of their essay is a basic five paragraph model with a big twist- they are turning their paper into the world, not just to their teacher. You will see their work here and here. They are able to transcend the basics of a black and white paper with just using quotations from their text as support to now finding audio, video, image, poll, etc… support. You name it, they can use it as support, and even create the support. With this paper, we stress the importance of writing as a form of communication. These kids are communicating to the world their thoughts, understanding, questions and challenges with how society exists today and where they think society is moving towards. I am really excited to see their conclusions since their works in progress have been interesting peeks into their minds.

But here lies the problem…

So, as I have been wondering around the classroom helping kids with their papers and with their sources, I am noticing something occurring- kids are Googling quotes. At first, my initial reaction was “Oh, that’s cool,” but the more I thought about it, the more alarmed I was. I stopped class and asked them what they were doing? What was happening to my kids’ research techniques? Where was their quest for validity of authors? Where was their checking and double checking on what they were about to cite? How did they know to believe who they were quoting? Why were they not going to the text to find quotes, but instead merely Googling “Orwell quotes 1984?” or “Doctorow quotes Little Brother?” or my favorite, “famous quotes about governmental control?” This was especially true of kids finding quotes to use as attention getters for their papers. They simply Googled quotes like “ privacy versus personal freedoms quotes” and would quote whom ever. They didn’t bother explaining or elaborating on who said they quote, they just liked the quote they found. It didn’t matter to them if they were quoting Benjamin Franklin, Moammar Gadhafi, or some unknown pastor from the Southern United States.

I told the class this was not acceptable. They needed to find out who said the original quote; why would that person be worth quoting. They needed to use their text as a primary source not simply Googling for famous quotes from Orwell on technology or governmental control using technology.

I was shocked. All I could think while I was running home that day that was that this wasn’t right. Kids need to go to the text and find the primary source, not simply Googling for popular quotes for the paper. After all this is how I had to write and compose research documented persuasive essays; why shouldn’t they do the same?

But maybe I am wrong. I have always advocated that kids use the tools in front of them to push their thinking, improve their learning and efficiency, and now maybe I am the one holding them back. I have been going over and over this idea in my mind. When teaching kids to write in the 21st century, how do we teach them to be good researchers? Is Googling for quotes a technique our kids need to learn? Or do we need to stay tried and true to the research methods of using the primary sources-looking back directly to the text they were using? Is there a hybrid we need to work towards? I am finding myself in a quandary here wondering where to go? Do I encourage their resourcefulness and efficiency? Or do I keep them using “older” methods of research?

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