Image from Will Lion

Image from Will Lion

“Today we are going to start our research project. Go to the library and find 3 sources for your topic…” That would be what my teachers would have said. We had a great collection of dusty books that listed old magazine articles and card catalogs that referenced 15 year old books. I could have found myself wandering into the fiction section of the room, but there were no movies playing, po rn pictures jumping up, or video games within reach all meant to distract my ADD student brain. Being a great student during those days was hard for me. How has technology changed life for me and my own ADD child?

I’m not a librarian, but students have been blessed with some good ones over the years. They taught us different strategies for collecting information such as the Big 6 method. Having a strong research method is imperative. That is the foundation on which students begin to build their work. But where to look and what to do with it has been improved over time as well.

I really do like Google, but it is very much like the picture above. I’m supposed to be a fan of educational web filters, but when I use them I feel like I’m reading the official Roswell or JFK reports with tons of information blacked out, missing, or ‘cleaned up’ for my protection.  Leading students to a proper use of Google is important to me. Model for them the use of the Advanced Search link. Giving specific keywords and keyword eliminators, giving a language requirement, and directing the search to a specific domain help confine the search and eliminate many distractors.  However, the most important distractor eliminator for younger students or beginner researchers is the teacher.

As teachers do lesson preps, they choose which problems, books, or manipulatives would work best for that class. The same can be true for research on the web. A teacher assigning everyone the same five website sources can still get many different variations of student work from them. Sometimes limiting the scope of information is incredibly powerful for classroom discussion and collaboration.

I found my information. Now What?

There are many blog posts that discuss social bookmarking. (Jennifer Dorman diigo, Kristin Hokanson on Social bookmarking is the term for having multiple people share a set of bookmarks online. Whether it is the teacher sharing the required links or students adding links to the group for sources they found, social bookmarking is a good way to collect and catalog online resources.

Years ago, Ms Muecke would have concurred that research notecards were not my friends. Why is it then that I like the idea now? I have found a friend in the discontinued Google Notebook and Evernote. Evernote can be added to your web browser easily and is a resource for highlighting information from a webpage and adding it to your Evernote notebook.  You notebook will contain all of the notes for you to review and use for your research and it keeps the original web source so you can cite your source in your project. Basically, it keeps online notecards for you to access from any online computer.

Putting it together

I have always enjoyed using Inspiration software for idea webbing or organization in the classroom. The makers of the software have recently introduced Webspiration, the online version with many of the same features.  My favorite feature has always been the rapid fire button which lets me type ideas and make ‘bubbles’ as fast as I can type and hit return. After collecting my research, from carefully selected guiding questions, putting the results of the information collection into a web can help better organize key points and the structure of the project. Doing so with Webspiration keeps a copy online, editible from any networked computer.

What else?

There are many different tools that people use online that I didn’t mention. The key is not to use them all, but find one or a few that really work for you and learn to use them well. I like finding the online (web 2.0) versions because they travel with me and are often install-free aids that don’t require special permissions to add to a computer.

What research aids have you found helpful? Please share in a comment below so we can continue to benefit from each other.


Ever been in an assembly or have the counselor visit your classroom and you look around the audience and see puddles of drool forming under the chins of your lovable students? Think back to last week’s staff meeting and remember when you were one of those lovable students? 🙂 The audience probably had little buy-in or ownership of the lecture being presented and probably missed a good bit of what was shared. Since the blog is a discussion forum, why not use it as a follow-up to that meeting?

If I was the counselor and I was talking to fifth grade students about what it means to be respectful, I could follow it up with a blog session with the students. “Tell me about a time when you felt respected at school.” “Call someone out on the way that they showed respect to someone else. How do you think it made the other person feel?” Give students the expectation that they will be blogging about the session and maybe they’ll be more attentive.

In a well-moderated school blog, high school assemblies on prom planning or career counseling could be followed up by the teachers with comments by students. Students could give suggestions or input on the decision-making process and further debate them online. Maybe what once was controlled by a few vocal students could be owned by a broader section of the population. Perhaps the comments could be question and answer sessions where the students can learn more by reading the questions others have posted.

A librarian’s blog can be a home for new book discussion or school-wide book studies. What better way to have a teacher present something new to a very broad population and still have the ability for a vast range of student comments?

The classroom blog can be used for a small group of students or a large number of students and can provide an ‘open door’ for the traveling speaker or teacher who sees many students during the week.

Remember, a blog doesn’t have to have an indefinite life span. A blog on an assembly topic may provoke a lot of interest, but limit it to a two week planned life span then turn off commenting. The posts can be left visible for those who want to review the topics, but the purpose of the blog may be over and not necessarily something you want to maintain.

Do you have an experience where a school blog was a tool for student communication?