From little conversations …..

I am always banging on about collaboration. Anyone who knows me, knows this.  And one of my favourite things is when a small conversation turns into an opportunity for me to get myself in front of a class, talking about research.  This happened again last week, and all it took was for me to ask a simple question:  “How is your class getting on with their research?”

An English teacher was working with her Year 10 class in the library.  Each student is researching an individual topic that they then have to write a persuasive, point-of-view essay about.  When I asked her how they were getting on, she commented that they were struggling to come up with three suitable research questions for their topic and then finding quality information to help them justify their point of view.

I immediately thought of the Gale Cengage Opposing Viewpoints in Context database which is an excellent source of reference material with the added bonus of point of view essays from both sides of a contentious issue.  After looking at this database together with the outcome for students in mind, she asked me if I could go through this resource with her class, which I gladly did this morning.


  • Students were exposed to another quality source of information for research
  • Students were able to find good resources they couldn’t find just by using Google
  • Students who were struggling with their chosen topic were able to find something they felt more confident researching by using the browse issues facility
  • Happy teacher who now has another tool in her bag of tricks to pull out and use with other classes

So the message is simple, really ……. Just

  • Show interest
  • Ask questions
  • And wherever possible, offer solutions

Tips for Searching the Internet

Power Searching with Google: We all want to get better at “finding stuff” on the internet – and those of us in education really want to become as skilled as possible in finding the “good” stuff so we can teach our colleagues and students to also become proficient finders and users of information based on their needs.

I was peripherally aware of the buzz around these Google sessions a few weeks ago, but just didn’t have the time to follow up on them so I was very pleased to see a link to the series of lessons via Google Research on Twitter.  Now that I know where to find them I’ll work my way through each lesson over the next few weeks, noting down anything new I can highlight in my searching the net lessons.

I’ve recently developed two new posters for students to use when searching the internet.

Poster for our Junior Campus – Year 7 & 8 students:

Poster for our Senior Campus – Year 9 & 13 students:

These work very well and students seem to like using them.

Supporting Literacy in Libraries

Yesterday I had the opportunity to present to some of our literacy teachers working in Southland schools, a range of ideas for how libraries can support the work they are doing with our students.

I always enjoy being able to talk to others about what I love to do, rediscovering a shared passion and connection for reading and learning, and today was no exception.  These teachers genuinely care about their students and the outcomes they can help shape for them. And they’re great at sharing the good things that work for them with others.

As time was limited, I chose to narrow the presentation down to three main areas: Reading for Enjoyment, Extending Reading and Supporting Research.  If you’d like to view my presentation with links to resources I use at Hargest you can now do that on Slideshare.

Black holes, space stations, holy grail and urban legends – a cache of critical collaborations

Traditionally Term 4 is not a time when teachers will seek you out, wanting your input into designing research units.  Normally the focus is on exams, reports and end of year procedures.  So it was with pleasant surprise I’ve welcomed two opportunities to work with two different teachers on planning and designing research units in the past two weeks.

Opportunity No 1 involves the Holy Grail and Urban Legends.  One of my Year 8 teaching colleagues approached me to work with her on the research area of a unit on legends.  Her lovely bunch have already been looking at a range of different types of legends such as Robin Hood and vampires and she wanted them to do more in-depth research on the legend chosen from a list she had previously compiled.

As most of their research will be done online, I suggested that she might like to encourage her students to focus on critical thinking by looking at what Wikipedia (come on, they’re going to use it anyway!!) has to say about their legend and then compare it to another online source.  Does the information from both sources agree? Does one source have more information than the others. If there are differences, how can they find out which version is the correct one? Emma Marshall, the wonderful Y8 teacher, was already prepared by having  researched the legends she had chosen to make sure there was plenty of information for her students to discover on their own.

This approach will lead into a passionate discussion by the students (I know this from many previous experiences!) about why or why not to use Wikipedia.  It’s always fascinating to hear what arguments they come up with in their ensuing impromptu class debate.  And of course as a wrap up, Emma will be able to summarise and highlight the salient points from their observations.

Note taking is also an area she was keen to begin developing with her class and so I customised a Dot Jot Note page that would work for them to keep them on track and on task.

I am looking forward to discussing with Emma her evaluation of this approach and my hope is together we can work on a template unit that can be used by any Year 8 class in 2012 as a result.

So, onto opportunity No 2 – Black Holes and Space Stations.  Within days of working with Emma, Year 9 Science teacher and school teacher-mentor Kaye Hercus also approached me, wanting to design a research unit based on the current information literacy unit all our Year 9 students complete during Terms 1 and 2 through their English class.

Astronomy is the topic this time and Kaye had given her class the opportunity to brainstorm some areas of astronomy they were interested in.  From this, eight topics were selected and the students, either in pairs or individually, will choose the one that captures their interest the most.

My input has included developing one initial research question for each topic. The students will then go on to decide on their own second question after researching around the first one.  I have also created a Livebinder for this unit where websites already selected by Kaye will be loaded for students to use as a starting point.

Together Kaye and I decided that critically evaluating websites would be the main information literacy focus for this unit, using the Quality Information Checklist as a starting point.

I will collaboratively teach this unit with Kaye and will blog about our reflections of this collaboration at the end of the unit, so watch this space (like the pun? …. astronomy, space ….. )

Both units have the literacy focus of getting students to think about what they’re finding, reading, using.  Critical literacy is not something I see much evidence of with the many classes I work with and observe. The opportunity to have students research online with this as the focus is going to be an interesting and valuable trial.  One I hope will show some shift in thought from students in these classes.  I shall look forward to reading the student’s evaluation page of what worked well, what didn’t and what they will do differently or the same next time.  Also, it should provide another level of evidence in the continuing development of information literacy skills teaching at Hargest.