Reviewing Online Research Skills: Part One

This time of the school year, I am invited to visit classes working on research papers to discuss with students how to use the sources available online. Most of the times, teachers are pretty open to allowing their students to pick their own topics to write about. This encourages students to research and share information about subjects, issues and ideas that keep them interested. The teachers work with the students to hone their ideas and develop a thesis statement, and then ask me to come in to their classrooms to talk about where to go online to find reliable information.

Starting Points

Although I’m always pressed for time during my presentations (there really is so much we could talk about), I don’t like to begin by assuming that students don’t already have resources they use to get their schoolwork done. After a quick survey of topic ideas (abortion, women’s rights, illegal immigration, GMOs, internet surveillance, etc.), I ask students where they begin their online searches and inevitably, they respond almost unanimously, “GOOGLE”.

This is a good starting point for discussing what Google is (a search engine) and for taking a look at the kind of results we get when we type a keyword into our search box. Rather than using a Powerpoint presentation during my talks, I use the Polyvision board and a live Internet connection to demonstrate doing online research in real time.* Using one of the suggested topics, I do a Google search that almost always has a WIKIPEDIA hit in the top five returns.

This is when I ask the students what they know about Wikipedia and we talk about how they should and should not use this indispensible online resource. The most common reasons I hear for why they shouldn’t use Wikipedia for academic research is because, “anyone can edit the entries” and “it isn’t reliable”. While the former statement remains only partially true (many articles on the site are locked and can only be edited by certain members of the Wikipedia community), the latter is no longer a legitimate reason for staying away from Wikipedia for school research papers.

In fact, multiple studies have shown that Wikipedia is as good as most traditional print encyclopedias when it comes to accuracy, especially on technical, mathematical or scientific topics. Entries that deal with pop culture, religious and political ideas and/or other issues subject to bias or interpretation, can be more contentious on Wikipedia, but even this can be used as a “learning moment” online.

Using Wikipedia for Research

Most research papers that students write nowadays can be described as argumentative or persuasive. That is, they have an issue in mind that is “debatable” or “controversial” and they have an opinion that they have to support. In order to do good research, the students should also know what the other side is saying about the issue, and this is where Wikipedia’s reliability can be discussed with the students. Topics such as “fracking” or “legality of cannabis” may have an introductory note explaining that there are polarizing views about the subject or that the entry is not considered neutral; and it’s worthwhile to discuss this with students.

In the end, the real problem (for me anyway) with using Wikipedia as a primary source for high school research papers is that it is only an encyclopedia. Just as I wouldn’t allow students to use print encyclopedias such as Britannica or Colliers, I discourage my high school students from thinking of Wikipedia as a primary source.

Instead, I teach them to read the articles for background information, including important dates and names associated with the subject. I also recommend that students look at the REFERENCES section at the bottom of the article. This is where Wikipedia really serves students best as an online research tool. Here they will find links to the articles and information used to write and research the article above. Often, the references have links that will take you to the source, and then the whole process of evaluating that source (for reliability, accuracy, bias, etc.) begins anew.

Hidden treasures of .gov sites    

After spending some time clarifying how to use and not use Wikipedia, I go back to the original Google search and explore the other search finds. This gives me a chance to talk with the students about the different kinds of top-level domains (TLD) that exist on the Internet such as .com, .gov and .org.

There are important differences between who can and cannot have a website in certain domains, but nowadays most web users ignore these distinctions. For students doing research, .gov sites are an excellent source of reliable and accurate information. Here is a handful of .gov sites that I recommend during my presentations:

  • Library of Congress: The largest library in the world with a collection of rare and unique audio, visual and text documents.
  • National Institutes of Health: A great resource for researching diseases, disorders and other health related topics. A search on this site will return government studies and publications on the topic.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Like the NIH above, the CDC is a valuable and reliable online source for health related topics.
  • CIA World fact book: Just as Wikipedia replaced the need for print encyclopedias, this online resource has replaced the library’s need for a print Almanac. Up to date information on the world countries’ population, type of government, economy, geography and so on.
  • NASA: Space exploration continues even if we are no longer sending people on the grand search. The telescopes, rovers and other tools available via NASA should be enough to inspire another generation of stargazers.

By this time in my presentation, I usually stop to ask if there are any questions, and I look up at the clock to realize, I still have a lot more to share, but only about fifteen minutes left to talk. Next time, I’ll discuss Google Scholar, clustering search engines and online citation generators.

I hope you found something useful, and as always, thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2015. All rights reserved.


 

* Of course this can backfire for many reasons and I do have a Powerpoint presentation ready in case of such an event.

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Free Apps from HPL

The Haverhill Public Library (HPL) is a great resource, not just for students but for everyone. Just as technology has transformed the way we do everything else, it has changed our relationship with the library as well. When I was a kid, the library was just a building that warehoused books. Today it is still a great place to find printed material, but it is also a place on the internet that gives us access to valuable digital information.

Our good friends Nancy Chase and Rachel Gagnon, librarians from the HPL, visited on Thursday, November 13, 2014 to introduce us to some of the digital resources available. They spoke to Ms. Quinney’s, Mr. Lavieri’s and Mr. Rossetti’s classes and plan to return in the future. Here’s a brief introduction to the services they spoke about:

  • Free legal music: Downloading music from unauthorized sites is still considered piracy nowadays, even though there is no high profile site like Napster in the news any longer. Freegal Music is a great alternative and it is free and virus free (which is always a big deal). While library users must deal with a weekly download limit, all songs do have a sample clip which lets you preview the songs. All songs are in MP3 format and videos are in MP4 format; there is no DRM content. The mobile app is free and available at the Apple App Store and through Google Play.

 

  • Hoopla: Someone paid the copy people at this company good money to sell their service, so I’ll let them speak for themselves as to what this app is all about.“Freedom starts here, now.Bringing you hundreds of thousands of movies, full music albums, audiobooks and more, hoopla is a revolutionary digital service made possible by your local library.From Hollywood blockbusters to best selling artists and authors – not just the hits, but the niche and hard-to-find as well – you’ll soon discover that hoopla provides you the freedom you’ve been searching for to experience, explore and enjoy what you want, when you want, and where you want.Simple to access and use, without the hassle of having to return the items you’ve borrowed, all you need is your library card, a web browser, smart phone or tablet to get started. The freedom you want is here, now. Sign up today!”

 

  • Overdrive: Another great app that every student and avid book lover should have. Overdrive allows you to download books, audiobooks and some videos to your smart devices. They have a good, brief introduction video here and like the other services above, content is never overdue since it “disappears” from your account and your devices when it is due back. Overdrive is available for iOS, Android, Kindle and Windows Phone, as well as for Windows and Mac desktop platforms.

 

  • Zinio: Like newspapers, magazines and other periodicals have seen their print subscriptions plummet since the advent of the internet. For a while, these print sources simply offered their content online for free, but those days have passed. Nowadays, you’ll need a subscription to access most of the content of these sources. Fortunately, the public library offers you a great alternative to buying all those magazines. Through Zinio, you are able to access all the magazines that your local library subscribes to, including back issues. You can download content to read while off-line, and like with other digital services, the content disappears from your device when your time expires.

All of these apps are free to download and use on any of your devices. Highly recommended for both teachers and students, and anyone else who wants to get the most from their public library. Hope you find something useful and thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2014. All rights reserved.

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New to our shelves

……….September is almost over and I hope you have gotten off to a great school year. This weekend was beach worthy, even though the autumn colors are starting to show on the foliage, and that means more time to sit around and enjoy a good read outdoors. We are still waiting for most of our new books to arrive to the LMC, but they have started to trickle in. Here then, are five new titles to our collection, along with descriptions lifted from various sites (with proper attribution, of course), and links to Amazon and/or Barnes and Noble.

FICTION

InterworldInterworld, by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reeves

From Booklist: “… A lad discovers that he can walk between alternate Earths—and is swept up in a war between them in this fast-paced, compulsively readable tale. Joey gets lost in his own house, but when he steps into a patch of fog and finds himself in a world where he died, a trillion Earths lie open to him—arranged in a vast arc, with an empire of science-based planes at one end and a realm where magic rules at the other …” Reviewed by John Peters

Boy21Boy 21: a novel, by Matthew Quick

From the publisher: “… Basketball has always been an escape for Finley. He lives in broken-down Bellmont, a town ruled by the Irish mob, drugs, violence, and racially charged rivalries. At home, his dad works nights, and Finley is left to take care of his disabled grandfather alone. He’s always dreamed of getting out someday, but until he can, putting on that number 21 jersey makes everything seem okay …

Bucking the Sarge, by Christopher Curtis

From Booklist: “ … The narrator is smart, desperate 15-year-old Luther (not Loser, as some call him) Farrell, who speaks with wit, wisdom, and heartbreaking realism about family, work, school, friends, and enemies. He hates his vicious mom (the “Sarge”), who has made herself rich by milking the system, including evicting poor families from slum housing. Luther’s job is to care for four men in Sarge’s Adult Rehab Center, another scam. At school he wants to win the science fair medal again, even if his rival is the girl he has loved since kindergarten. Bits of philosophy from Luther’s various mentors, who range from Socrates to Judge Judy, blend with the comedy and sorrow… ” Reviewed by Hazel Rochman

GRAPHIC NOVEL

cardboardCardboard, by Doug TenNapel

From the publisher: “… Cam’s down-and-out father gives him a cardboard box for his birthday and he knows it’s the worst present ever. So to make the best of a bad situation, they bend the cardboard into a man-and to their astonishment, it comes magically to life. But the neighborhood bully, Marcus, warps the powerful cardboard into his own evil creations that threaten to destroy them all!”

NON-FICTION

food foolYour Food is Fooling You, by David Kessler

From the publisher: “Former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration David Kessler, M.D., argues forcefully that our brain chemistry is being hijacked by the food we eat: that by consuming stimulating combinations of sugar, fat, and salt, we’re conditioning our bodies to crave more sugar, fat, and salt—and consigning ourselves to a vicious cycle of overeating. Adapted from the adult trade bestseller The End of Overeating, Your Food Is Fooling You is concise and direct and delivers the same message, many of the fascinating case studies, and the same advice for breaking bad eating habits in a voice and format that’s accessible, positive, and affirming for teenagers …

……….Mind you, these are just a few of our new arrivals and you can find these titles and more near the circulation desk, right next to the magazines (yes, we still order and encourage our students to read magazines … on paper). I will highlight more of our new arrivals in future posts and encourage everyone to stop by to check them out for yourselves. Hope you find something useful, and as always, thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2014. All rights reserved.

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Welcome Back 2014

Summer vacation seems like it happened long ago now, and I hope you had a great break and feel ready for a new school year. I want to welcome all our new staff members and our freshman class. I look forward to meeting everyone as they join our family in the Hillie Nation. You will find me (Mr. T) and my trusty sidekick, Ms. Sicard, in the Library Media Center (LMC), across from everyone’s favorite destination at HHS, the cafeteria.

Here are some important reminders/announcements for the LMC:

  • The HHS LMC Catalog can be found here and at the bottom of the HHS Launchpad, under “View More Links Here”.
  • The LMC is open from 7:00 am to 3:00 pm daily and we can be reached at extension 1143 if you have any questions
  • Teachers can begin booking time in the library to bring their classes. We have two computer labs with 28 and 25 PCs, respectively. We also have 5 computers for Virtual High School (VHS) students. PLEASE NOTE that the LMC labs and other library visits (to check out books or use the pit, for example) should be arranged at the circulation desk … of course, we have a book.
  • Teachers of freshman English classes can begin scheduling visits for an LMC orientation. This introduction to the LMC’s rules and resources takes only one class period. Freshman orientation visits will be held Tuesday, September 16th – Friday, September 28th.
  • Students who have a study period scheduled, can sign up for library study. Students can sign up before first period or at 2:05, after the last school bell. (Study teachers, please DO NOT give students a pass to the library … they should sign up with us). Please call ahead of time if you absolutely must send a student or students for any reason to the LMC and ALWAYS send them with a pass.
  • Anyone wishing to use the library afterschool for a meeting or an event should contact the main office (xt. 1100) to make sure it is available. Students who wish to study, use computers or gather in the library afterschool do not have to make any arrangements ahead of time.

Please keep in mind that there are always many people using the LMC at the same time for different reasons (VHS, early-college, directed study), and it gets difficult to keep a track of who belongs there and who doesn’t. We appreciate your cooperation and thank you in advance for your assistance.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you have a great week.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2014. All rights reserved.

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Late July Quick Hit

Sure I am on vacation, like the rest of you. I hope you are enjoying your summer surrounded by loved ones and getting your energy and creative juices ready for the new school year. Where I am, there is very little internet connection (and that is so awesome) but I have been able to log on late at night when there are fewer active users. Just wanted to take a moment to share two related sites with you all. The first is an article at Scientific American, one of my favorite sites and magazines, discussing the expanded role of data in our schools, “Scientists Bring New Rigor to Education Research“. In the article, the writer, Barbara Kantrowitz, mentions the What Works Clearinghouse site which is where all of this new data is being collected and categorized for all of us interested in education. I must admit that while I have heard of the site before, I have not delved into the contents yet, and I have added a link to the site on my blogroll. You will find it listed at “Q” just below the “Getty Images” site (another place I have yet to really explore). So much to see and discover online, that even with help I sometimes find it overwhelming. Luckily, summer vacation is only half over, so we have plenty of time to meander. Hope you find something interesting in your journeys. Good luck and thank you for stopping by. 

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Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2014. All rights reserved.

 

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Online resources for research

Hello all. It’s been a while again, since my last blog post, and I apologize for the absence. I’ve been presenting to English classes as they prepare for their research projects. I generally start by introducing the HHS OPAC so that our students will know how to get around their college libraries once they get there, and then I ask them where they start their online searching. Without fail, every class has mentioned Google and Wikipedia. Then our real discussion begins. Depending on the topics, grade level, and amount of research the teachers are expecting of the students, we discuss different strategies, online tools and databases to use. Everyone gets introduced to the Haverhill Public Library databases and I reinforce the importance of having a library card.

But no matter how much I stress the value of databases, I still see students returning to the internet to complete their academic research; and I don’t blame them. There are many wonderful and useful sites out there, and today I’d like to share with you a short list of my favorite online tools and websites for doing academic work and research:

  • CIA World Factbook: An indispensible collection of intelligence gathered from countries around the world including the best, most current data on population, economics, religion and other social and financial information.
  • Newseum: Part curiosity, part digital archive, the collection at this website is interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, you can see the front page of over 1000 newspapers (yes, they still print those) from 89 countries. Second, you can see the front pages as they appeared on a few recent historic days (think 9/11, Katrina, final shuttle launch, 2004 Tsunami, etc). Third, there are also a number of professional development opportunities that teach how to incorporate the news in the classroom such as “The Photographic Revolution: The Ethics and Impact of Seeing the Story” and “The Media and the Cold War”.
  • Bartleby.com: No relation to Melville’s scrivener, this website is one of the original and best compilations of “classics”. Here you will find Bartlett’s Quotations, Bulfinch’s Mythology, Oxford’s Shakespeare, and other reference works including anthologies of TS Eliot, Sigmund Freud, Emily Dickinson & others.
  • Getty Images: I haven’t completely explored this website, but I do know that there are more than 3 million pictures available and that makes for a fantastic resource for any project. Unfortunately, you can’t save the pictures without purchasing them (unless you don’t mind a large watermark crediting the photographer … which sometimes, I don’t). Even if you don’t include the pictures in your paper or presentation, the photographs in this collection are still useful for looking at primary documents from different periods to examine fashion, architecture, living conditions, etc.
  • Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab): a great resource for anyone who is writing a research or academic paper of any kind. For me, this site basically replaces my old desktop, spiral bound copy of Diane Hacker’s Writers Handbook. Whenever I teach academic writing I always use the sample papers available on the site to show students what a paper should “look like” … presentation counts, after all.
  • PaperRater: Sure, whatever word processing program you’re using already has a built-in spell correct and grammar check feature, but this web site offers just a little bit more than that. PaperRater tells you up front that it can’t tell you a lick about your content, but it is pretty good at looking at things it can quantify, like sentence length and words per sentence. It can also make some guesses about your writing by looking at your vocabulary, capitalization, and punctuation. That’s really good feedback for free.

This is by no means a complete or comprehensive list of all the resources available online for doing research, but it’s a start, and I hope you find something useful. Thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2014. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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Researching online

Well, I missed posting anything in February, and it seems to me like the month just zipped by; but I do remember shoveling (a lot). As usual, I had many false starts at writing a post, but eventually grew either disinterested or discouraged and just gave up. There’s so much I could write about, but by the time I gather my thoughts, I feel like the world has moved on to the next idea and whatever I’m writing about, feels like old news. Such is the speed at which the world seems to move nowadays.

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Which brings me to this post. This week I had the privilege of getting in front of people and talking a bit about one of my areas of specialty; doing research online. On Monday I was invited to speak to Ms. Morin’s and Mr. Andrew’s junior year English classes, as they prepared to research a current “controversy”. Then on Wednesday, I was invited to present to the Haverhill Public School’s ELA teachers, many of whom are friends and colleagues I already work with regularly.

On both occasions I used a permutation of a slide show I’ve used and modified many times throughout the years. The basic idea is that using GOOGLE to do research for school projects is not acceptable in most cases, and that we need to teach our students how to find reliable online resources and how to recreate an online digital “library” for themselves. I hope to be able to share the slideshow here on this blog in the near future, but in the meantime, any teacher who is interested in getting a copy can contact me at htoromoreno@haverhill-ps.org.

teaching cover

Among the other points I highlighted in my presentation are:

  • We are all awash in information, but most of this information is personal or commercial, and isn’t really useful for our academic research.
  • Today’s students didn’t grow up with specialty references (atlas, dictionary, encyclopedia, thesaurus, etc.) which divide knowledge into different areas, therefore information is “flattened” … that is it all seems the same.
  • There are reliable and class worthy government sites available for students.
  • Clustering search engines such as Yippy and Carrot, help student find other keywords or phrases associated with their search terms.
  • Google Scholar and Wikipedia are ongoing digital projects that keep getting better and more useful for beginning academic research.
  • Students should be encouraged to turn to subscription databases available through their school or public libraries.
  • Databases are part of the “deep web” which is not made up of web pages and is therefore not available to search engines, not even Google.
  • Academic databases include all the citation information students need and teachers want in the proper MLA, APA or Chicago format.

4 ws

There’s more to this, but that’s the basic idea. Hope you find something useful and that you have a great weekend.

P.S. Getty Images has just made its database of 35 million photographs available for public non-commercial use. WOW is about all I can say about that … And I will definitely add GETTY IMAGES as a major link on this blog.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2014. All rights reserved.

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