Sunday, January 31, 2010

Using Resource Depositories to Your Advantage

This past Saturday I attended the NICE conference held at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. I was thoroughly impressed at the number of presentations available for the $5.00 fee. I decided to attend 2 of my three sessions on Web 2.0 tools and another on Professional Development. The presenters are all very well know in the area of technology so I knew from the start I would leave with my head spinning. As I sat in each session, I wondered how I could be more like each of the presenters and what made them "so smart" in this area. Well, I think I found their secret (and even if I didn't, I discovered a way to make me look smarter, anyway.)

All three of the presenters, as well as many of the others, I presume, have developed smart ways of searching. They would never use a search engine like Google as that just gives you too many sites to look through. Google does not give you a ranking system of what is useful and what is not.
So, I am going to share their secret, and once you hear it, you may be asking yourself the same questions I did. Like, "Why didn't I think of that?" If you already knew this trick, then at least humor me, please. What all three presenters do is search their Personal Learning Networks Delicious or Diigo accounts and bring those sites into their own sites. What they have all essentially done is let someone who must have far more time than themselves do the searching and then they get to use the sites. I learned how to narrow down the searches within Delicious so that I do not have to look at 500 math sites when only 75 will apply. While all of this searching is dependent on the tags the person has put on their entries, it certainly is less time consuming than starting with Google.

Now that I have found their secret, I am going to use a new Web 2.0 tool to compile my own fantabulous list of resources. I am going to use
SimplyBox to categorize my favorites into files.

I have been wanting to do this for years but never found the time. I like this tool because rather than a web address, I am going to be able to have a screen shot of the website. The unfortunate aspect, if you are a fan of another browser, of Simply Box is that it is an add-on for Firefox only. It is very simple to use and allows comments to be added as well as tags. I have developed only one box so far. Boxes can be public, private, or shared. I am still new to this tool so I am not completely sure of all of its capabilities but I do know it is something worth taking a look at. It is fun and easy so I know it is a tool I will use in developing collections of sites for the teachers and, hopefully, getting them to do it themselves. Most importantly, it doesn't matter what computer you are using, your favorites will always be available.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Inquiry-based Lesson Evaluation - Fast Food Dieting

Since I was thinking of addressing the Fast Food dieting sensation that is all over the television these days, I chose to evaluate websites related to proper nutrition and the daily requirements necessary for good eating habits.

Finding Webquests that addressed nutrition varied greatly in what was being asked. Some simply had the students looking up what the nutritional guidelines were and what food groups fit into these areas. For example, it is evident that a Fast Food salad from Mc Donald’s is a better choice than the Taco Salad from Taco Bell. While both salads have lettuce, it is the extras that quickly make the salad cross over from a healthy choice to one that contains so many extra calories, not necessarily all good for you.

Healthiest Fast Foods,, presented a task for students to write a feature article for a newspaper and suggest ways in which people could develop healthier eating habits. Comparing various food items from four different fast food restaurants, students created graphs and analyzed the data to determine what restaurant would provide the healthiest meal.

This Webquest provided many options for the students in choosing the meals and the restaurants. It may open up their eyes to see that a healthy meal can be found at many fast food restaurants. Portion size is also a big consideration considering that, as a nation, we are becoming one of the largest, and I don’t mean in population. As the lifestyles of many become more sedentary, it is important to look at what we are consuming in order to stop this trend.

In contrast, Nutrition Mission,, provides students with the task of developing a healthy meal plan for two fictitious characters. This Webquest provided various missions based on different criteria, such as eating at a fast food restaurant or choosing unhealthy snacks. The creator was rather ingenious in the images of the two people and how they changed after following a healthy meal plan. Unfortunately, many of the links were not functioning (the Webquest was developed in 2005) and a rubric was not provided to determine the expectations of the students.

Both of these Webquests are inquiry based and provide the students to make decisions and ask questions about the topic, which is essential to develop higher order thinking skills.

Personally, I find the claims on the television to be rather unbelievable. While I do think there are ways to lose weight eating fast food, it is only one part of the equation. It is important to incorporate exercise and adequate rest as well. In researching these diets, the people involved simply reduced their daily caloric intake which will always lead to a weight loss. I find it hard to actually believe that someone can eat only fast food from a single restaurant and meet the daily nutritional requirements needed in a healthy diet. Plus, I love the disclaimer that these results are not typical.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Internet Resources – Helpful or Harmful, Not Just for Education

The Internet can be an invaluable resource in education but must be used with caution and awareness. Learning is now not just confined to the walls of the school building. Students can work collaboratively with other students not just in their own school but in different schools and countries. Lessons can be enhanced utilizing additional articles and websites that present topics in real time using actual audio, video, and print. Questions that arise during the course of the school day may be answered by simply doing a Google search. But, what constitutes a high-quality search? Typing a few key words and looking at the first few websites may arrive at the desired answer but may not be enough.

Like many things, all information on the Internet is not created equal. Everyone needs to realize that just because it is on the Internet does not mean it is true. Students need to develop a set of research tools that can then be utilized when evaluating the information found on the internet. Only after proper education in how to evaluate websites will the Internet truly become useful in education. Unfortunately, many teachers do not possess these skills themselves and often rely on their own knowledge of a subject in determining an acceptable, Internet research based project.

It is not acceptable to simply allow the students loose on the Internet to research any given subject. Students need to be able to determine what a quality, fact based website is and what is simply a website based on opinion and not verifiable. This is not to say that opinion based websites cannot be used as a useful educational tool. The use of Google Advanced Search is a way to narrow down a search to information that may be useful in any topic. Boolean connectors can further reduce the number of websites by filtering out information that does not add any additional information to the topic being researched. Finally, students need to be able to distinguish the difference between verifiable information and what may simply be another student’s work that has been uploaded to the Internet.

Finally, students need to understand that the Internet is not a replacement for textbooks and other print materials, but an enhancement of those resources. While the Internet provides us with real time information, it is posted so quickly that it may need retractions and editing to be verifiable. As long as we teach the students to be aware of the infallibilities inherent in the use of the Internet, it will continue to grow as an invaluable educational tool.

The following web links may be helpful in using the research methods mentioned:
Google Advanced Search
Boolean Connectors
Methods for Evaluating Websites