here to begin the adventure!
The mantra in the library is that the 21st century belongs to those who can both access and communicate information. One of our essential questions is "how do we find the information we need?" To that end, the first semester for grades 5 through 8 was dedicated to exploring SOAR and learning to use reference materials and databases. We talked about a database being like a treasure chest. You need to do a little digging to find the treasure, and you don't just arrive at the box and think you're done, you open up that box and see what's of value inside. Students created "beelines," a kind of treasure map that allows someone else to recreate steps taken to arrive at the same online spot (a skill that will also be useful down the line as children learn to cite their sources). Students shared their most valuable "treasure" with classmates in an oral report, and I sure am proud of the bounty our students unearthed as they went on a scavenger hunt for three kinds of gold pieces: online resources useful for homework, for fun and for learning something new. Children determined that the most useful and likely-to-revisit pages were the homework and subject area practice offered both at Infoplease's Homework Center and FactMonster, and the current events and news access at Refdesk.com, but the kids also found some pretty amazing, quirky and obscure goodies in the databases based on their own interests, such as:
Amazing Paper Airplanes, complete with video instructions;
Great information about all our favorite animals, such as the BBC's video library, or the Zoobooks Encyclopedia of Animals (hmmm, I feel a primary research project coming on!);
Games like thematic online Hangman, in which we can guess words from our favorite books, or the Science Museum of Minnesota's "Guess that Candy Bar" game;
Timelines that practically do our homework for us, for better or for worse;
Godchecker.com, a source for mythology that crosses time and geography;
Biographies of animated characters and their creators;
and how to talk like a detective, in case of a Damon-Runyon-related emergency.
I think the most valuable thing we got out of this semester is an appreciation that while there is a ton of information online, it's not all created equal. Issues of currency, usability and relevancy came up organically. Knowing they would have to share with the whole class and that they would receive feedback from peers, the students started asking questions. "Who created this site?" "Is it current?" "Would anyone really use this?" "Do we need a database to get here, or would this have come up more easily on a Google search?" This sets the stage for other relevant questions: by which criteria do we judge information we find online, and when we use the information, how do we give credit where credit is due? Plagiarism, citations and website evaluation are next on the docket...keeping it fun and keeping it real world!