Every year as I begin to review the metric system of measurement with my students, I am asked why the United States is the only country that does not use the metric system. Of course we are not quite the only country not fully using this system, but the student question is valid. I chose this topic for the following reasons:
One correct answer does not exist, making the search a little more challenging.
Gave students an opportunity to discover an answer to their own question and provided a healthy classroom debate.
Inquiry Plan Anticipatory Set: Full Class Discussion I lead the class in a brief discussion about the metric system. We discussed what they knew about this measuring system. Where they have used it, and if they thought their parents knew how to measure in metric. This lead nicely into the question of why the United States has not fully implemented the metric system. Internet Search I gave the students two tasks while in the computer lab: 1. Search to find the reason(s) why the United States does not measure in metric. 2. Log their actions and thoughts as they search.
Inquiry Plan: Objectives Through classroom observations and student search strategy logs, I intended to discover the following information about my students’ searching skills:
What types of word or phrases they choose to use for a search.
How they determine whether a cite is reliable.
Whether they would properly cite or just plagiarize.
Predictions Middle school students have a relatively short attention span. Therefore, if a task does not move quickly or takes too much energy they either quit or look for a faster way to complete the task, possibly by copying. In his article “ Don’t Let Students Overlook Internet Plagiarism ”, Bugeja indicates “My Documents” gives a false sense of ownership. I think this is true with my students and the Internet. They seem to feel that it is acceptable to copy and paste especially pictures. Their logic being that if it were wrong, it would not be so easy to do.
The following are the most frequent comments or questions from my students while they worked on their research project:
“Is this the right site?”
“I can’t find anything.”
“Can you just tell me if this is the right answer?”
“I don’t want to read all of that.”
“What’s the URL?” (URL being pronounced as a word instead of three separate letters)
Personal Thoughts: I was a little surprised by the number of students asking if they were at the right site. I did not expect them to think there was just one “right site”. When I re-phrased “URL” as “web address” the students knew exactly what I was referring to.
Results: Search Phrase Expectation: Students would use the word “metric”. Actual Result: 72 % of the students typed in the full title that was given on their log sheet. Personal Thoughts: This result was initially surprising since I had never considered that the students would type in the complete title of the assignment. It also indicated that I must carefully select the information I provide on research assignments.
Results: Site Reliability Expectation: Students would only select sites from the first few on the list and would avoid any site that involved too much reading. Actual Results: The chart on the following slide illustrates the responses from 73 eighth grade students. Answers given by only one student are not represented. Personal Thoughts: I was very disappointed by these results. I did expect students to choice sites that were aesthetically pleasing, but I thought they would use better judgment when evaluating a web sites.
Results: Summarizing Expectation: Students would simply copy and paste information from their chosen site. Actual Results: The chart below illustrates the number of students who summarized their research versus those who simply copied. Seventy-three student responses are represented.
Many students would type, “I think” and then paste the answer from the site. This was quite obvious from the sudden change in font.
At the beginning of the lesson I did stress to the students that the directions called for them to summarize, not copy. My actions may have had an impact on the results.
Personal Thoughts: With 29% of the students giving answers that did not address the question, I feel this is an area that requires further investigation. Did the students not understand the question? Did a low reading ability impact their ability to read the on-line information?
After considering students’ comments during the activity, and reviewing their research logs, I had further questions. I created a survey using SurveyMonkey to address these questions .
Brief Summary of the Results:
86% of the students indicate that they used the Internet to complete 3 or more research assignments in seventh grade.
60% thought the metric research project was somewhat easy, 29% felt as difficult, and 11% felt it was easy.
84% of the students indicated that they consider the information on the Internet to be mostly accurate.
73% said they would use any information on the Internet that addressed their topic.
69% of the students prefer the teacher to provide a list of sources for them to use.
Follow-Up Activities I dedicated one class period to visiting and discussing the sites found by some of the students during their research, which included many blog sites. With each site we looked at its features, additional links, author, possible link to an organization, and addressed the meaning of the extension given in the URL. Three factors indicated that I needed to do this follow-up activity:
The number of students who indicated that they chose their site simply because it addressed the metric topic.
The 73% of students who responded on the survey that they use any source of information on-line that addresses their topic.
The overall student trust for any on-line information exhibited throughout the research activity.
Emerging Ideas Reflecting on the results from this inquiry project, causes me to see a need for change in four main areas of my instruction: Type of Assignments Following the advice of Michael Freedman , I believe that assignments must require students to access and assess information, that they will use to address a problem. This type of assignment requires a higher level of thinking skills, by moving away from knowledge questions to application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. These are the very skills that students will need for knowledge work as addressed by Bruce in Twenty-First Century Literacy.
Emerging Ideas Providing Sources Many of my students indicated that they prefer to have a teacher generated list of sources rather than be left to their own on the Web. I feel this is a reasonable request for middle school. By providing the students with a few sites, they will be able to focus on skills such as assessing the information, using the information, and properly citing the information. All skills addressed by Bruce as the new kind of reading skills. Once the students have acquired these skills, they can advance in high school to less guided Internet activities.
Emerging Ideas Teaching Skills to Evaluate Web Sites Assessing information seems to be a weak area for my students. I teach students to carefully critique other’s experiments to determine the validity of the results. This topic could easily be expanded to the importance of evaluating information on-line. This skill is also required for all middle school students according to METS. It appears that middle school students are not the only ones being deceived by data and presentations. According to Parker , researchers at Arizona State University found that adults were more likely to believe information when presented as animated bar graphs in PowerPoint than when the same information was typed on a piece of paper. Obviously many of us need to improve in informational literacy.
Emerging Ideas Fair Use and Copy Right Although most of my students appeared to have summarized their search results, I strongly believe that this was prompted by my emphasis on summarizing. For future assignments I will invest the time with my students to discuss the moral and ethical issues related to plagiarism. Students will be required to provide sources even for pictures, this is an area in which I have been lax in requiring. Provided proper citation is also an expectation listed in the Social, Ethical, and Human Issues of the MET.