Evaluating Websites at Queensmount PS

Prior to the Christmas Break, I had met with the Grade 8 Science teacher at Queensmount PS to talk about ways that I could come in and support her students (all the grade 8 classes) on a research project on cells and cloning.  The lessons were actually supposed to happen before the holidays but the teacher ended up off on sick leave for six weeks, so we postponed the lessons until the week of March 25 and 26.

As I always do when I first start working with a class, I spent some time on the Library Learning Commons and the Virtual Library.  What I like to do is familiarize the students (and teachers) with the various sections of the LLC, especially the section on Research.   We have a ton of resources in our research section but I also wanted them to become familiar with the Inquiry Process prior to them starting their research projects.  I then spent a fair bit of time navigating the VL, talking about the kinds of resources we have, e.g. general reference encyclopedias vs. information databases etc.  I like to talk about the types of resources and when they are used.  For example, general reference encyclopedias are great at answering those lower order thinking questions that are so helpful when doing our pre-search phase of an Inquiry task.  When we want to start answering those in-depth questions we begin to look at our Information Databases that are filled with websites, primary sources, newspapers, magazines, etc.  I think it’s important that when students begin research tasks, they understand the types of questions they are asking and where to find the best resource to answer that question.

I directed them to the following resources on the LLC as an aid when doing their pre-search on any topic.

http://library.wrdsb.ca/research/research-questions/

http://library.wrdsb.ca/research/find-the-right-source/

After exploring the VL, we had some discussion around the fact that sometimes they would not be able to find what they need on the LLC or VL and they would have to venture out onto the “Web”.  I felt it was important for them to think about where they would go to find information and how they could assess the validity of any website they visited.

I always start out by saying that there is nothing wrong with using Google or Wikipedia- as a starting point.  We all do it and I think it’s great way to give you that overview of an unknown topic.  However, I stress that it is only a starting point, not the end point.  In fact, using Wikipedia often allows you to find other valuable sources included in the reference section of the Wikipedia entry.  Now this is a lesson in and of itself so I didn’t spend a lot of time here but I do think it’s important to have that conversation with students.  Anita Brooks Kirkland, Library Consultant for the WRDSB has created a great graphic organizer on using Wikipedia as a tool.  It can be found on our LLC here:

http://library.wrdsb.ca/research/evaluating-sources/what-about-wikipedia/

The next resource from the LLC that I share with students is our evaluating websites checklist.  We have some great discussion about what makes a website “real” vs unreliable.

http://library.wrdsb.ca/research/evaluating-sources/evaluating-websites/

I then directed the students to a couple of hoax websites (unbeknownst to them) and had them evaluate the websites according to our checklists.  It was great to listen to the great discussions occurring amongst the students as they debated the validity of the various websites.  I have the included the link to the hoax websites below.

http://www.shsu.edu/~lis_mah/documents/TCEA/hoaxtable.html

The next task was for the students to evaluate two websites on their own.  I provided the link for one hoax site and one legitimate website (varied it for each class).  Using the criteria from the website evaluation checklist (authority, objectivity, accuracy and completeness, currency and technicalities), the students had to evaluate the websites and determine which was a fake website and which one was a legitimate website.  They then had to present their case based on the criteria.  The majority of the students did a fabulous job.  In fact, I think all of them clearly identified the legitimate website.

Bravo!

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