One of my 4th grade classes is about to embark on a research project, so in a recent lesson, I decided to teach and hone their research skills. Not wanting to go the standard route of, how to Google more efficiently, I chose to select 2 topics, have the students search for information on one of those topics, and then share what they have learned. The 2 topics students could choose from were, the Tree Octopus and All About Explorers. (Note: I did skew the activity purposefully by telling them that they had to search for those exact phrases).
Most students went directly to Google and without much thought clicked on the first link and began writing down “factual” information about their chosen topic. Some facts that were discovered included:
- Christopher Columbus was born in 1951 in Sydney, Australia.
- Marco Polo, Bill Gates, and Sam Walton, helped finance Magellan’s expedition to the Spice Islands.
- Lewis and Clark were inspired to become world-famous explorers after being mesmerized by the stunning color photographs in National Geographic magazine.
- The Pacific Northwest tree octopus (Octopus paxarbolis) can be found in the temperate rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula on the west coast of North America.
- Unlike most other cephalopods, tree octopuses are amphibious, spending only their early life and the period of their mating season in their ancestral aquatic environment.
- Tree octopuses have eyesight comparable to humans.
And so on…
Actual "sighting" of the tree octopus
The students shared their findings with the class and as the discussion moved on, several of the students began to see some flaws in our research. We then began to inspect the websites more carefully and found many erroneous claims and facts throughout. The students were stupefied and couldn’t believe that there were websites that look so real (one student said, “They even have pictures!”) but lie. They were even more amazed that these were the first two hits that Google presented them in their search. We continued the discussion with what to look for in websites that are reputable, using the “5 W’s”: Who, What, When, Where, and Why, looking for url suffixes (.edu, .gov, etc.), and how to double-check sources.
I’ve done many internet research lessons in the past but none have the lasting impact that this does. The kids jump right into the task and roll along smoothly, impressed with how easy the task is and what good researchers they are. The harsh dose of reality at the culmination of the lesson truly sticks with students and really makes them think about facts and information they find on the web.
If you’d like to browse the sites mentioned above: