Reflecting on what I teach

            Whenever I am invited nowadays to teach a class (yes I know I wrote about this last time, but now I am reflecting) about doing online research, I’m conflicted as to what I should teach. On the one hand, I want our students to have the critical thinking skills required for navigating the online world. On the other hand, I want to direct them to sites that I know are reliable and trustworthy.  Because my time with each class tends to be limited to one or two visits, I often go with the latter approach.

            Teaching students critical thinking skills requires more time than I usually have and it also means you need foundational knowledge that many high school aged people are still developing. Take, for example, lateral reading which is a critical thinking skill covered in the Crash Course episode three on “Navigating Digital Information” (1). The idea behind lateral reading is that instead of scanning up and down a webpage for evidence of its reliability, you open up a tab next to the original page and do some research on the source that you were using. 

            First of all, this is an extra step that I know many of my students will not take. Secondly, even if they find a source about the original webpage they were reading, they are still left with the same problem they started with. How will they know if this second page is reliable?

            The problem with this strategy is that many of our students have grown up completely digital and have never stopped at a newsstand or magazine rack (2).  Many of our students are unable to come up with a list of ten print sources. I say this because I have taught lessons where I give students two minutes to list as many newspapers and magazines as they can. I used to give students five minutes, but today’s audiences don’t even need a minute’s time to exhaust their knowledge of paper and ink publications. (We have links to 38 publications in our Magazines page, in case you were wondering where to start) 

            The same can be said about what used to be known as mainstream media outlets. Gone are the days of the three or four major networks along with the local public broadcasting channel, and formats such as a six and 11 o’clock news. I mean, sure they still exist, but most high school aged students I know are not watching these programs to get their information. If recent research (3) is to be believed, then young people are relying more and more on their social network feeds as a means of getting their information about the world around them. (We have links to 20 news outlets on our News page). 

            One of the realities of this development is that most of us don’t care to fact check the information as it spreads since it comes from a “friend”. Besides, many times the ideas are distilled into one-liners with an ironic graphic attached, not meant to be taken seriously, or at least, not quite so seriously that you would have to fact check it. This kind of behavior may be acceptable in social networks, but it’s not what we expect when it comes to academic research.

             Knowing these things about my students nowadays means that I start my lessons about doing online research, by introducing them to the link for our school’s online public access catalog (OPAC), through which they can find a book in our collection. We then talk about the difference between keyword and subject searches, which series of books we have available, and how to read the bibliographic information the OPAC retrieves.  We talk about the call numbers and what they mean in the Dewey decimal language, and how those numbers help us find the books on our shelves. Book in hand, we then discuss how to find the particular subject we are researching by using the table of contents and the index, allowing us to focus on only those pages we need.

            “Why”, I hear you asking, “would your lesson about doing online research begin by showing the students how to find a book?”

            Mainly because I want my students to spend more time researching their subjects rather than researching their sources.  By directing them to books, many of which have multiple writers, I also hope to expose them to authors and publishers they can trust.  Finally, I want my students to be familiar with how the library is organized so that they feel comfortable walking into a stack of books, confident that they will be able to find what they are looking for.

            Once I am finished showing them how to find and use a good book for their research, the lesson can go in many directions, depending on the teachers’ needs.  The next step, however, is usually to introduce the class to our friends at the Haverhill Public Library. They have much to offer our students and faculty, and they are always happy to help us out. Maybe next time I will talk about some of their resources.

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

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2019. All rights reserved

Sources:

  1. Crash Course: Lateral Reading, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GoQG6Tin-1E
  2. Barthel, Michael. “Circulation, Revenue Fall for US Newspapers Overall despite Gains for Some.” Fact Tank, Pew Research Center, 1 June 2017, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/06/01/circulation-and-revenue-fall-for-newspaper-industry/.
  3. Twenge, J. M., Martin, G. N., & Spitzberg, B. H. (2018, August 16). Trends in U.S. Adolescents’ Media Use, 1976–2016: The Rise of Digital Media, the Decline of TV, and the (Near) Demise of Print. Psychology of Popular Media Culture. Advance online publication https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/ppm-ppm0000203.pdf

Little known (and therefore under-used) collections

The Haverhill High School Library Media Center (LMC) has a wonderful catalog of books, video tapes (yes, like those used in VCRs), DVDs and other materials that we would love to get into people’s hands. Today, I’d like to share with you a brief description of four collections we have available for students, faculty and staff.

Professional Development: We have a small, but interesting collection of books aimed specifically at people who like thinking, reading and learning about all things education. Perhaps you’d like to read a classic, like John Holt’s 1973 book, How Children Learn or Lev Vygotsky’s 1993 book, Thought and Language. Maybe you’re in the mood for something more current like Harold Foster’s 2008 book, America’s unseen kids: teaching English/language arts in today’s forgotten high schools or Terry Zawacki’s 2012 book, Writing Across the Curriculum : a critical sourcebook. Other titles deal with classroom management, critical thinking, standards & testing, second language acquisition, and other jargon only people in education ever say out loud.

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Graphic Novels: I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that I was a child of the comic book and have continued being a fan of the story told in pictures. I still read the “funnies” in the newspaper (yes, the news printed on paper) and I’m a huge advocate of illustrated stories. Some of my first real books were those Illustrated Classics titles that you can find nowadays at Walmart and Costco for $1.99. I’m not sure I could have understood some of those stories (The Three Musketeers or Orwell’s The Time Machine, for example) without the pictures helping me figure out what was happening. We have one hundred illustrated books including Fahrenheit 451, The Metamorphosis, The Odyssey, Beowulf, and Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Many of our graphic novels are adaptations of classic books or in some other way connected to education.

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Literary Criticism: Helping students find online resources for most academic research projects isn’t usually that difficult. There are plenty of free .gov sites, pretty reliable news sources, and Wikipedia (when used in a certain way described in an earlier post) for students to begin their research. One topic that is usually difficult to find online sources for is literary criticism because, let’s face it, who’s thinking about what the green light in Gatsby symbolizes except English geeks? Fortunately, the LMC has a decent collection of “Lit Crit” books, especially for classic works and writers of the traditional literary canon. Best of all, our collection stretches across many generations of writers and critical theory. Among the series that we have are Norton Critical Editions (1960s & 70s), Twentieth century views (1980s), The Greenhaven Press literary companion to American & British authors (1990s), Bloom’s notes (1990s), and Social Issues in Literature (2000s).

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College Ready & Test Prep: Long before the MCAS and PARCC tests showed up, there was the PSAT, the SAT, the ACTs, the ASVAB and a bunch of other tests, known mostly by their acronyms, to strike fear into our teenagers’ hearts. Of course, nowadays there are great online resources such as Khan Academy to help students review complex or confusing topics in any subject, but the books in this collection familiarize students with the test formats and give them practice with actual past exams. We also have titles that cover topics such as preparing a resume, writing a college entry essay, and making the most of your college years. This section is highly recommended for the college minded student who wants to take a serious look at the tests that stand between them and their scholarships. Nothing improves your luck like preparation.

 

So there you have it. Four valuable print based resources that we have in the LMC ready for our students, faculty and staff to use. As a BONUS, I’d like to mention that we also have a number of maps and posters in the LMC that we offer for teachers to use in their classrooms. Most of these are old National Geographic maps and/or illustrations, but they are also in good condition and laminated to protect them from further wear.

 

Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you found something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2015. All rights reserved.

Reviewing Online Research Skills: Part Two

Google Scholar, clustering search engines, citation generators and more

…………Last time I mentioned that most students begin their online research by turning to GOOGLE, and that usually leads to at least one WIKIPEDIA entry. Both of these sites are covered in my last post, and there’s plenty to discuss about them, but with only fifteen minutes left in my presentation, I quickly turn to GOOGLE SCHOLAR.

…………Despite its pedigree, Google Scholar is not a search engine in the traditional sense. Search engines, like Bing, Yahoo Search and Ask retrieve web pages based on algorithms that rank popularity and links to other pages. Google Scholar weeds out most of that noise and focuses on finding obscure hits that are academic, research based papers, publications and other resources that won’t make anyone’s “most popular” list. In this case, that’s a good thing.

…………It’s important to note that many of the finds that Google Scholar returns may be resources that require subscription or purchase. This doesn’t mean that you can’t find useful research material that is free. Included in Google Scholar’s search is the power of Google Books, which often allows users to preview whole sections of books. This is a great resource, especially for high school researchers, whose school libraries cannot keep up with purchasing published materials that are current, reliable, and appropriate for doing academic research.

…………Google Scholar also finds case studies, research publications and other public documents that are published by universities, individual researchers and private think tanks. Many of these resources are not only available for free, but can be downloaded as a PDF. Best of all, if you do find something that you can use in your research, Google Scholar provides the citation information in MLA, APA and Chicago formats. This alone, will save the student researcher valuable time in the end. google scholar Clustering Search Engines

…………With just a handful of minutes left, I finally get to talk about sites not named Google or Wikipedia. (And that’s okay, because it’s important to discuss when and how to use both of those ubiquitous and powerful Internet tools.) I usually have the class brainstorm with me the ways they begin their Internet research, so I return to the list we’ve created. Most times, this list includes other popular search engines such as Bing, Ask, Yahoo Search, maybe Dogpile or Webcrawler. These other sites are also search engines that use different algorithms to search for and sort the finds. They will basically return many of the same websites in different orders, and I don’t have a preference for one over the others.

…………Instead, I introduce students to YIPPY, a clustering search engine. Like the other search engines mentioned, Yippy has a traditional search field where you type in your keyword. Unlike the other search engines, Yippy divides the kind of returns it finds into several categories including what kind of site it came from (.edu, .gov, .org, etc.) and when the site was updated (past week, past month, etc.). Additionally, Yippy also offers a column of related search terms that both expand and narrow the keyword.

…………So, for example, if a student searches “steroids”, Yippy will find the typical Wikipedia entry, all the current news stories dealing with the topic and the sites selling, advertising and talking about steroids. The bonus for student researchers is that the clustering search engine will also divide the websites into meaningful categories such as “Side Effects of”, “Medical Use”, “High School”, “Bodybuilding” and so on. These “clouds” (as they’re called on Yippy) give students other words that could help them narrow or expand their research idea.

yippy2 Citation generators

…………During the final minute of my presentation, I introduce kids to a couple of the great online citation generators that exist to make their academic lives a little easier. I understand that there are still some teachers that insist that their students gather all of the bibliographic information on their own, but I find that most citation generators are imperfect anyway and will demand the students’ attention to correct or complete the information.

…………These online tools are also very useful, I believe, because the amounts and kinds of information that are available to today’s student researchers is ever changing and we could all use a little technical assistance with such matters as proper documentation of sources. The two citation generators I usually recommend are Easybib and Son of Citation Machine. Both of these tools are free and easy to use and require minimum training for learning how to generate proper MLA style citations. (Easybib requires a paid “upgrade” to create APA or Chicago style citations) son of Closing Remarks

…………Just before the bell rings, I remind students that the world wide web is an incredible collection of information, but that most of it isn’t really appropriate for school research. In fact, what most of us know as the “Internet” is really only the tip of the information iceberg that exists online. Stored in private and subscription databases is a whole other world of information that not even Google can reach. If they seem interested in learning more, I’m invited back. If they’re not interested, at least they’ll have some pointers to start with.

…………I hope you found something worthwhile. Next time I’ll discuss the databases available through the Haverhill Public Library and other useful sites for student researchers. As always, thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2015. All rights reserved.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Book donations and web stories

……………I can’t believe it’s past the middle of November, but I hope everyone is having a good school year so far.  I feel like I don’t have any one particular thing I need to share with anyone who reads this, so instead, think of this as a digital cornucopia of websites, observations and other such goodies as we head towards the Thanksgiving Day Holiday.

……………If you haven’t already tried using the HHS OPAC, I’m here to remind you that we have nearly twenty five thousand titles in our collection and that we are always adding new books we acquire through purchase and through the generosity of our school community. Last week we were fortunate enough to receive three boxes of books thanks to Mary Sullivan and Melanie Kutschke who remembered the Haverhill High School library. The books were all in excellent condition and were evidently part of the research for a PBS documentary on Latinos in the United States. We want to thank them for the wonderful addition to our collection and encourage our readers to check out these books. Among the titles donated are:

As always, I run across many interesting stories that make me wonder and I’d like to share a few of these with you:

  • 10 Scientific Theories and Laws You Should Really Know: I love lists and this one is especially necessary in today’s modern day. Plus how can you top a list that has Newton, Einstein and Archimedes on it?
  • 10 Things we’ve learned about fat: I told you that I love lists. And I especially love lists where chocolate and bacon get to be the “good” guys. Although it kind of makes me wonder when we’re going to get the health information “right”.
  • Foods with 100 calories: This is the last list, I promise, and I include it only because I love food and I do all the cooking for my family. I would love to print out all 24 of these foods (in color, 8.5” x 11”) and make myself a giant laminated poster to remind me what constitutes 100 calories (But I won’t, of course). 13 large steamed shrimp or 43 Okra pods, you decide.
  • Artist creates faces from DNA left in public: I consider myself a lover of art and a supporter of science, but something about this story makes me think of the worst Orwellian horror multiplied by Kafka.
  • Writing by hand improves learning. I’m a scribbler and a journal keeper and a list maker. I collect random lost pens and have notebooks full of poems, stories, cartoons, line drawings and all sorts of other doodles. So of course, I am absolutely biased when I think about how valuable putting pencil or pen to paper is for your brain. These two articles (How handwriting trains the brain and Is Writing better than Typing) support my belief that there are other positive effects to learning by writing it down.

That’s all for now. I hope you have a great week and thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2013. All rights reserved.

Welcome Back, 2013 – 14

……….I hope your summer was great, but even more I wish for you a successful and exciting school year.

……….September is a bittersweet time for me. It is like a New Year’s celebration as we open the doors to our building and gather together to do what we do. And then, there’s the saying goodbye to another summer of our lives.

……….There are a lot of new faces in the building this year, and I want to welcome them to our family. I hope they each find at least one ally and I want them to know they can always find a quiet corner to gather themselves in the library media center (LMC).

……….I would like to use this post to share important information related to the Haverhill High School LMC:

School Extension:      1143

Hours:                            Mon. – Fri., 7 am – 3 pm

……….The High School’s library catalog is online and available for anyone to use. You will find it listed first in out Major Links categories to the right. Please make sure to bookmark that page and use it often to find out what we have on our shelves.

HHS homepage

Review of basic library rules

  • Students may sign up for the library (if they have a scheduled study), before first period starts or after the last school bell (2:05 pm).
  • Subject teachers may send students with a pass (up to 3) to complete class work or take a test. (Please call to advise us if you are sending students out of a class).
  • Teachers can sign up to bring their classes to the library by checking at the circulation desk for availability. We have two computer labs, each with about two dozen working PCs (depending on how the network is behaving that day). We also have room for a class in the “pit”.
  • Hats, hoods, cell phones, head phones and personal electronic devices are not allowed. Every other rule in the student handbook also applies doubly true in the library.
  • Personal electronic devices may be used if the student shows that he/she is doing school-related work. (Please ask us first; don’t make us assume you are breaking a school rule).
  • The library is a large common space, available and welcoming to all who wish to convene (after making arrangements or getting a pass), thus anyone who disrupts or interferes with the WORK being done, will be asked to leave – and may be banned for some time, depending on the wishes of the all-mighty Oracle.
  • Remember to leave the library the way you found it. If you moved a chair, put it back. If your students moved chairs, have your students put them back. Better still … don’t move the chairs.
  • Food and drink are not allowed in the library. Food includes anything you put in your mouth that you intend to swallow or chew on. Drink includes water. I can’t make this any clearer.
  • We are here to help anyone and everyone who asks for help, especially when they ask with a smile.

……….Please bookmark or subscribe to the library blog, as I try to share news and information that is mostly related to education, our library collection or other ideas that I believe are important to consider. I encourage anyone who is new to the blog to check out the video resources page for a number of reliable sites that have free streaming videos and other educational resources you may find useful for use in your classrooms.

……….I think that’s it; for now.

……….I hope this was helpful and I thank you, as always, for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2013. All rights reserved.