“Research Says…”

Everyone has that phrase, the cliché that rolls off others’ tongues with surprising frequency. The one that shouldn’t bother you. The one that does bother you. The one you seemingly can’t escape.

Whether it’s “out-of-the-box thinking,” “giving 110%,” or “same difference,” whatever comes after is lost. For me, that phrase is “research says.”

This is partly due to its ubiquity, but also because there doesn’t seem to be a definition of research that’s shared between librarians and popular culture.

Research isn’t the actor. Research isn’t a specific result. Research isn’t a prescription. Research is a focused and systematic investigation, with the goal of finding useful information and replicable results. Scientists will agree with the librarians. And obviously 9 out of 10 dentists.

Each fall my husband’s Physics students run carts of different weights down an incline to determine whether mass affects the acceleration of gravity. No less a scientist than Galileo determined it doesn’t, and my husband has the equations to back this up. The result is not just anticipated, it is known and can be calculated. The students are not researching, but the experimental process sets the tone for what research looks like when the result hasn’t yet been determined.

Similarly, in English classes, who else has been asked to help students write papers with their own “original research” offered as literary criticism on a work. Ironically, what teachers mean by this is usually the students’ own thoughts on a published piece, without referring to any external secondary sources. This can promote critical analysis, though I might question why we assume novice readers will come up with valuable insights not considered by experts, but it isn’t research. No wonder students are confused by what research is or why it matters.

We try to address this general idea in Honors Biology with a Vitamin lesson on why experts disagree. It’s helpful to hear students try to contextualize what an individual study demonstrated, the limitations of that research, and how the findings were shared (or shall we say dumbed down) by the popular media. They’re quickly able to make connections to the clickbaity news they encounter on a daily basis.

Stanford History Education Group’s updated report on Students’ Civic Online Reasoning is, in their words “troubling,” and in my words, “terrifying.” It’s not just that our students need to be better navigators of information so as to excel as scholars. There are organizations out there who are monetizing our illiteracy. Whenever I hear “research says,” I picture research (as some sort of Muppety Beaker/Swedish Chef amalgamation) messily mixing variables and then sharing the resulting baked goods with an unsuspecting audience.

Is it too much to ask who did the research, the background of those researchers, and the scope of what they were expecting to find? Bonus points for when it was completed and the variables that were tested! This isn’t what makes headlines, but this is what research would actually say if it were able to talk. When we can substitute “I did a Google search and this is what I found” for “research says,” we are setting our society up as information illiterates, with consequences for our civic infrastructure. We continue to increase media’s access to us through our- often complicated – relationships with our devices. I believe it’s crucial that we are ambassadors for a nuanced understanding of the idea of research. If you have any ways that you’ve done this in your school or community, I’d love for you to share in the comments below.

Conversations, Collaboration and Cookie Cutters

There is a lot going on in a school, finding time to sit with fellow educators and plan is not easy. Trying to meet sometimes feels like trying to make all the pieces in the game of Tetris fit. Finding time to co-plan lessons and collaborate with classroom teachers can be hard, but sometimes the quick conversations you have in the hallway or before a meeting starts can lead to a cool, connected project! The conversation can spark ideas for a partnership, a collaborative project, or topic shared in the classroom and the library. 

I was looking for something to do in the few short weeks before the winter break in December. It is always an awkward time because it is not enough time to do a deeper dive project but I still want the work the learners are doing to be meaningful and engaging. My second graders love to do projects and we had not done anything with 3D printing yet this year, so I was brainstorming some 3D printing project ideas. I was talking to a second grade teacher and she mentioned a cookie making project her students do with the chef in the cafeteria. Making connections with the math lessons, students would be measuring different amounts of ingredients and then baking cookies. This was a lightbulb, what if the students designed and 3D printed cookie cutters that they could use in their math lesson! 

This project connected some of my school library curriculum goals to continue to advance learners’ design and 3D skills, connected to the math curriculum in the classroom and was a fun project for second graders to take home and share with their families. 

I started the project by reading the very funny book “The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?” by Mo Willems. The pigeon books are favorites in my library and always lead to lots of laughter. I then shared a story of purchasing some cookies for a Thanksgiving dinner I was attending. I talked about how the cookies were shaped like turkeys, pumpkins, and pumpkin pie slices. Second graders shared different cookie cutter shapes they had seen. The whole class did a Google search to find images of different cookie shapes. I also brought a couple of cookie cutters to school for the students to look at and get ideas for different shapes and to explore the design of the cookie cutters. 

The next step was planning and designing. Students drew pictures of the items they wanted to make into a cookie cutter, everything from snowmen, to soccer jerseys and flowers to pizza slices. Second graders added all the details to their pictures. I then had them take a black marker and just outline the outside of their drawing. With the outlining, students were able to see the shape of their cookie cutter. 

During the next library class, I introduced the Morphi app. Morphi is a great 3D design app. I really like to use this with my younger students because the app is very user friendly and students are able to use the 2D to 3D feature. Second graders used the 2D to 3D feature to draw the outline of their cookie cutter design, then with the press of a button, the app converts their 2D drawings into 3D designs ready to be printed. The Morphi app was a new tool for my students. They used the Tinkercad 3D design website in first grade. Learners were introduced to a new technology tool, building on previous knowledge, and growing their skills with apps and technology. 

Over the next couple days, we printed the cookie cutters using the library’s 3D Makerbot printers. The finished cookie cutters were passed out to each student to use in their math lesson and then students were able to take their projects home. 

This was such a fun project! My second graders were so excited to design their own personal cookie cutters and learn a new 3D design skill. They were also thrilled to be able to use their cookie cutters in their math lesson and then take their cookie cutters home and share them with their families. I was happy to engage in a meaningful project that helped me reach some of my library curricular goals and find a way to collaborate with a fellow educator to help with a lesson in their math curriculum. All around the project was an awesome way to spend the couple of classes before the winter break! 

No time for bonbons

Since I started blogging for AISL, there have been some months when my entry is 100% planned and outlined, and other months when a topic bubbles to the surface because it needs to be addressed. This is one of those “bubbling” months.

Have you ever had a colleague who truly doesn’t understand what you do and thinks you sit back eating bonbons and reading books all day? I’m sure we have all had to address that person. This week, though, I had an interaction that I just can’t shake. It was implied that their job as a classroom teacher was so much more important to the students and that they couldn’t just “get up whenever they want to get lunch,” etc.

While you digest that, let me ask: do you even remember getting time for lunch? I don’t. Lunch happens to be the busiest time of the day in a school library, because that’s the time when students have the freedom to visit the library. Most of the time I am frantically eating right at the circulation desk while answering all kinds of questions from the students and faculty. Let us not forget that my eating does not go unnoticed by students as they ask why I am allowed to eat in the library and they can’t. Lol.

You and I know how much work goes into getting our education and/or experience. We know the challenging task of organizing an entire library, curating a collection, evaluating sources and databases, making sure said databases actually work, teaching classes, answering reference questions, helping students find that *perfect* book, advising teachers, attending countless meetings, maintaining the privacy of patron accounts, etc. (often without an assistant or clerk). Each of us has that special capacity in our brain where we can compartmentalize and cross-reference questions and answers in a blink of an eye in the midst of controlled chaos. But I am preaching to the choir here.

Especially since I am still processing this particular encounter, I suppose my question is this: What do you do when a coworker doesn’t understand your position?

It’s good to know that we are not alone here.

Pop-Up Party: Books for Breaks

As we slowly inch towards spring break (!), I am thinking about how to promote our library books to our upper school students. A couple of years ago, the English department began assigning free reading for winter and spring breaks, and I want to do something as special for this spring break as we just did for winter break to promote the library books.

Last year, many English teachers brought students up to the library in groups, but this year, after  four unexpected days off of school due to local fires (our lower school and many of our students’ homes were in the evacuation zone), our teachers were pressed for teaching time and weren’t sure they could bring their classes this year. I wanted to do something festive and different, which would work with either whole classes or students coming in on their free time. 

Our party “invitation” was sent to everyone via email and on display boards around the Upper School campus.

This is where teamwork came in. I am lucky to work with two fabulous full-time Library Assistants. We developed the Pop-Up Party: Books for Breaks, which was located on one end of the library. The Pop-Up lasted one month, to give time to check out books for both Thanksgiving break and winter break. We decorated the area with twinkly lights and centerpieces made from weeded books. We brought the best of the best books and put them in areas by theme. We extended due dates until our second week back in January, and even distributed goodie bag reading kits full of holiday treats, cocoa packets, bookmarks, and instructions for using our Overdrive ebooks and audiobooks.

Library Assistant Maggie Lara made our entry display.

Approximately half of the English classes came to check out books, and I taught them about our ebook and audiobook collections and highlighted particular books of every format. I even told them it was my birthday party, when in fact it was my birthday, and asked them to celebrate with me by taking the time to find books they like. Other kids came on their own. By the end of the month-long party, many of the twinkly lights burned out and we ran out of goodie bags, but by then our new students learned about the library as a welcoming and fun space, and everyone is now more aware of our collection. We were able to start conversations with readers we didn’t know well, and perhaps people who don’t call themselves readers but still checked out books. Students are returning the books now, asking for sequels, and actually responding to emailed overdue notices.

Maggie Lara made table runners and centerpieces out of weeded books and twinkly lights (which I had left over from my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah 4 years ago).

What do I do for spring break to keep the book excitement going? How do you promote free reading and your collection? I would love some ideas from you for March!

In Honor of MLK Day: Service Projects @your library

In addition to being the Director of the Library, I am also the coordinator of service learning activities. I believe that the library is perfectly situated to play an integral role in promoting and managing service projects, because of its ability to connect with so many students and the daily traffic seen in the library. Not only does it allow me to get to know passionate students that might otherwise fly under the radar, but I also get to work out in my community, learning about and serving others. I have to admit that I absolutely love this part of my job and look forward to each new service activity, whether it be making lunch at the local Ronald McDonald House, visiting with Veterans, or distributing food at the local Food Bank.

Last spring, I wrote an article for School Library Connection, highlighting some activities that we do that also aligns with the work of a library. One of my favorite activities is our yearly book drive and book giveaway. We hold a book drive in the fall, and then attend a local Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank event called Produce to People. These events happen in various neighborhoods twice per month, and are a wonderful resource for those in our community. We attend one event in November and give out the donated books for free, and patrons are able to browse the selection as they wait in line. We have given away over 1,000 books so far. Many people thank us for being there and make requests for genres for future events!

This year, we had some books left after the food bank event, so I looked into other organizations that accept book donations. One that I discovered is called Book’Em Pittsburgh. Their mission is to get books in the hands of prisoners in Pennsylvania. They receive letters from prisoners requesting specific titles or genres, and hold packing sessions, during which they select books and pack and ship. They have thousands of donated books in all genres. They are an entirely volunteer-driven operation, so it is amazing to see the organization, care, and attention given to each aspect of the process. 

I organized a packing session as part of my school’s MLK Day of Service, which is held every year in honor of the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. A group of volunteers, including parents and students, came together to receive training on the selection and shipment process, and then went to work! The space was a flurry of people selecting books, taking care to fulfill the requests as closely as possible. The two hours that we were there flew by, and I cannot wait to attend another session in the future. Not only was I doing something I love (reader’s advisory!) but also assisting with bringing books and knowledge to those in need. I took the rest of the day to reflect on what more we could be doing for the prison population. Having recently finished Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, this has been on my mind lately, so I was thankful to play a small role in helping those in the prison system have access to books. 

Do you do service projects with your library? I would love to hear what you have done, so please share in the comments below!

Tug for Truth: History Mysteries

Who doesn’t love a mystery? The adrenaline rush of following a trail of clues and the surprising detours of red herrings (I didn’t see that coming!) all combine into a final sense of satisfaction as the pieces of the puzzle start to assemble. And, some of the most memorable mysteries contain an ambiguous ending that lead you to continue to ponder a series of new questions.

Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight. 1937. National Archives, https://www.archives.gov/news/topics/earhart. Accessed 17 Jan. 2020.

Captivating historians are like good mystery writers, and our school’s upcoming writing workshop with author and historian Candace Fleming provided an opportunity to introduce “History Mysteries” to sixth graders using Fleming’s book about Earhart’s disappearance. In Amelia Lost, author Fleming presents some of the lingering questions about Earhart’s disappearance during her flight in 1937 to circumnavigate the globe. Fred Noonan was Earhart’s navigator in this flight, and it is assumed that Earhart’s plane crashed when she lost communication and the plane ran out of gas. Theories regarding her fate abound, and I set up a “Tug for Truth” activity for students to weigh the evidence of one of the theories: Earhart and Noonan were rescued by the Japanese and imprisoned.

Setting the Stage for a Mystery
Using a large globe, I asked students to suggest why this type of flight, circumnavigating the globe, was particularly risky. Students mentioned flying over large stretches of water and the risk of running out of gas. Showing the communications log of Earhart’s last flight, students read aloud her fateful message to the ship Itasca that was sailing near her flight path: “Itasca we must be on you but cannot see U…but gas is running low been unable to reach you…flying at 1000 feet.” This was a chilling moment for students as they empathized with Earhart’s distress.

Radio Log of the Last Communications of Amelia Earhart. 1937. National Archives,       catalog.archives.gov/id/6210268. Accessed 17 Jan. 2020.
Radio Log of the Last Communications of Amelia Earhart. 1937. National Archives,
     catalog.archives.gov/id/6210268. Accessed 17 Jan. 2020.

Tug for Truth
Students were told that they would be evaluating a claim (theory of Earhart’s disappearance) by gathering evidence and sorting the evidence on a “Tug for Truth” line. “Tug for Truth” is a Visible Thinking routine that challenges students to weigh the merits of evidence. The essential question for this activity: Does the evidence support the claim as TRUE or NOT TRUE? White boards and flippable writing tables were set up with a tug-o-war line and this essential question. Students were given a red post-it note to write the CLAIM (Earhart and Noonan were rescued by the Japanese and imprisoned) and green post-it notes to write EVIDENCE statements as we examined primary source photos and articles from NYTimes and CNN. After students considered the evidence and wrote a brief statement, each student group decided where on the line to place the evidence.

Mysterious Photo
At the heart of this claim that Earhart and Noonan were captured by the Japanese is a mysterious photo taken at a Marshall Islands dock.  The small seated figure on the dock is suggested to be Earhart and the tall figure standing at extreme left is said to be Noonan (see the CNN article for an enlargement of the photo). Students circled these two figures in the photo and made factual statements about what they saw: 1) one seated figure with short hair appears to be a white woman and 2) one standing figure appears to be a white man.  Most students placed this evidence note near mid-center on the line–not definitively proving the claim as either true or false. They also wrote an evidence note that the photo was hard to see (blurry) and placed this evidence toward the middle of the line. 

Marshall Islands, Jaluit Atoll. National Archives, www.archives.gov/news/topics/
. Accessed 17 Jan. 2020.

The range of evidence notes got more interesting as students read the article from NYTimes.  Where would you place these pieces of evidence on the Not True–True line?

In 1981 an investigator interviewed a crew member about their ship’s role in a search effort
for Earhart.  Crew member reported no trace was found of her. The ship’s log also did not
mention Earhart.

In 1937, the year of Earhart’s disappearance, America was not at war with Japan.

In 1960s a journalist initiated several investigations in Saipan to try to find evidence to
support the claim of the photo as picturing Earhart.  No evidence was found, but the
journalist remains adamant that Earhart is pictured in the photo.

The “Tug for Truth” activity promotes critical thinking as students evaluate various factors, and it encourages lively discussion among groups as they support their reasoning for placement of evidence on the True or Not True area of the line.  For instance, one student said that an interview of a person many years after the event took place could be suspect because the person’s memory might be colored by more recent events or by a faulty memory. Other students pointed out that the ship’s log might be a more reliable piece of evidence (unless absence of Earhart’s name in the log was a deliberate effort to conceal evidence).  As you can see, students began to realize how sorting out truth can be complex and that many factors are involved in evaluating credibility. One of my favorite aspects of this activity was to ask students to select their strongest piece of evidence and place it at the end of the line (as you would place your strongest person at the end of a tug-o-war line). This encouraged further debates as groups justified their reasoning.

Extension Ideas
This CNN article was read at the close of the activity. I don’t want to spoil your mystery–but read this surprising article to decide if recent evidence has debunked this photo’s role in explaining Earhart’s disappearance.

Several other theories persist about Amelia Earhart. Students could explore the Bevington photo and discuss evidence found in a recent exploration by Dr. Ballard, as discussed in this
NYTimes article.

I encourage you to discover a “History Mystery” and immerse students in their own tug-for-truth discussion. Puzzling events engage students’ curiosity and promote opportunities for critical thinking and discussions.

Works Cited
Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight. 1937. National Archives, www.archives.gov/news/topics/earhart. Accessed 17 Jan. 2020.

Butler, Susan. “Searching for Amelia Earhart.” New York Times, 14 Oct. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2017/07/11/opinion/amelia-earhart-photograph.html?searchResultPosition=4. Accessed 17 Jan. 2020.

Cohn, Julie. “The Amelia Earhart Mystery Stays Down in the Deep.” New York Times, 14 Oct. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/10/14/science/amelia-earhart-robert-ballard.html?searchResultPosition=2. Accessed 17 Jan. 2020.

Fleming, Candace. Amelia Lost. Schwartz & Wade, 2011.

Marshall Islands, Jaluit Atoll. National Archives, www.archives.gov/news/topics/earhart. Accessed 17 Jan. 2020.

“A New Clue in the Earhart Mystery.” The Earhart Project, Tighar, 12 Apr. 2010, tighar.org/Projects/Earhart/Archives/Research/Bulletins/57_Bevingtonphoto/57_HidinginSight.htm. Accessed 17 Jan. 2020.

Radio Log of the Last Communications of Amelia Earhart. 1937. National Archives, catalog.archives.gov/id/6210268. Accessed 17 Jan. 2020.

Wakatsuki, Yoko, and Ben Westcott. “Amelia Earhart Mystery: Photo Appears Taken 2 Years before Pilot Vanished.” CNN, 13 July 2017, www.cnn.com/2017/07/12/asia/amelia-earhart-photo-japan/index.html. Accessed 17 Jan. 2020.

Ten Years of Weekly Web Hits in the Middle School Library

When Friday comes around, there is one task that supersedes all others on my to-do list at the library. Friday is the day I write and send out the Weekly Web Hits. This year is the tenth “anniversary” of the WWHs, as I’ve come to call them, an email compilation of resources and items of interest that I send to 150+ people each Friday. What began as a way to reach out to our middle school faculty has grown into one of the cornerstones of faculty culture at our school and beyond.

Each week, I tap into my extensive personal learning network to find websites, apps, articles, and tech tools that might be of interest to the faculty. I created a Weekly Web Hits “banner” for the email, and I follow the same format for them each week. To introduce a web hit, I find a photo online labeled for reuse that matches the content of that hit. The photo goes above that hit’s text. The text gives a brief summary of the topic and contains links to any relevant web pages. Each week’s email consists of 3-4 of these hits.

In addition to the week’s web hits, I usually include a weekly search challenge. These are inspired by Dan Russell’s excellent SearchReSearch blog, and I always include the solution to the previous week’s challenge as well as a delineation of the search lessons the challenge taught. Over the years, the faculty’s search skills have improved tremendously. In fact, a core group of faculty who solved the search challenges every week became known as my Star Searchers. I gave each of them a detective nickname, like Trixie Belden, Encyclopedia Brown, etc.

I’ve found the Weekly Web Hits to be a terrific way to start a dialogue with faculty members about ways the library can help them with their classes or with their advisories. I can’t count the number of times that a faculty member has come to and said, “You know how you wrote about XYZ in the Weekly Web Hits last week? I want to try that in my classroom. Can you help me with that?” The Hits spark ideas that lead to faculty taking new risks with students, trying tools that they wouldn’t otherwise have been exposed to, and utilizing the librarians’ expertise in exciting ways.

The faculty tell me that they look forward to my Weekly Web Hits each week. At the bottom of the email, I always include a paragraph about things going on in my life, whether it’s my plans for the weekend or a review of a book I’ve recently read. Readers say they love that personal touch. If you would like to subscribe to the Weekly Web Hits, please email me: nockowitzs@columbusacademy.org, and I’ll add you to the mail list.

Insta Update

In my attempt to connect this post to my holiday break that starts today, I’m beginning with A Christmas Carol. We’re all familiar with the message of redemption after Scrooge visits his own past, present, and future. In cinematic adaptations of the Dickens’ novella, we often see Scrooge and his ghosts peering through windows at those in his life.

1938 Movie Adaptation of “A Christmas Carol”

Several years ago, I posted about my personal use of Instagram in the library. This isn’t the way my students use the platform but rather about meeting the personal challenge of posting once per day, considering my role through fresh eyes. This time, instead of reflecting on my own posting, I want to consider myself as participant and viewer.

I admit that I like to live vicariously through beautiful libraries… 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is pretty-spaces.jpg
The NYPL, Strand, and the Morgan, some NYC favorites

Or following the Los Angeles Public Library as they visually document spaces referenced in Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, so I can see how new media can enhance the old…

LA Central Public Library, past and present

Or marveling at #bookfacefriday.


Or stalking books and contests.

If you haven’t read The Poet X, seek it out over break.

Or keeping up with AISL and its librarians.

Follow aislibrarians

But my favorite is just getting a snapshot into others’ libraries. Staged shots are beautiful, but I like seeing what average days look like for other librarians. Their displays. Their students. Their teaching space. Their sense of humor. The books they are reading. My students laugh when I show them my stream, and I’m in no way Insta’s average user. Libraries, libraries everywhere…

John Burroughs School – Study Space (I was coveting glass rooms for awhile last year, but we got our pod…sorta)
Mercersburg Academy students have a more creative book club sign up table than mine
New College Writing Center – procrastination in action
Virtual reality with Middle Schoolers at Tampa Prep
This idea went straight from Solebury School to my circulation counter.
I have screenshotted several of the Holton Libraries bulletin boards for my own adaptations.
This is what I needed for some maker fun before winter break courtesy of the Viewpoint Library

Just a short post for today so I can get the holiday started. Thanks for the inspiration, and I wish everyone a relaxing semester break!

Destress Fest in the Library

The first thing you need to know about De-stress Fest is that you have to be very careful about how you pronounce destress, lest you inadvertently end up promoting an event called Distress Fest. The second thing you need to know is that trying to help students destress can be a little stressful.

A few weeks ago one of our Learning Center teachers approached me about hosting a Destress Fest in the library. Knowing that our students’ anxiety levels can get pretty high in the week before exams, we decided to host a day-long event in the library with activities, crafts, and peer tutors on hand to help students prepare for exams. Thanks to everyone on the AISL list for their suggestions!

Our library has a few small study rooms which we could use for peer tutoring, and we gave over about half of the main floor to crafts and activities. We had coloring, snowflake making, a puzzle, origami, a Stick Together of The Scream, and ornament making. The ornaments were a last-minute addition, as the supplies we had ordered for some other activities were delayed in the busyness of holiday shipping. My colleague made a last-minute store run to make up for the DIY Slime, modeling clay, and games we had ordered.

The Stick Together activity was a huge hit. We didn’t tell them what it was, so lots of students were focused on getting it done so they could see what it was (and we snuck in a stealth art history lesson). 

What is it?
Getting clearer now. . .

We got steady traffic throughout the day, and definitely had more takers on activities than we did on peer tutoring, which I suppose is to be expected on a Friday afternoon at the end of the term. Our afternoon was crowded with students who wanted to make ornaments (some students had been wearing the ones they made in the morning attached to their backpacks or jackets), but we were long out of supplies by then. It was hard to find enough de-stressing activities for everyone, but all were in good spirits!

We’ll definitely do this again, and now that we know how popular it is we’ll be sure to have more supplies on hand. In fact, we’ll be able to use the supplies we ordered for this event, which arrived Saturday morning. 

Starting in the Shallows

I’m writing today to share some reflections on attempting to create a set of non-examples of a project for students at my school. I was approached by a Chemistry teacher with a program that he had used in the past – a project about Glass. I really love the idea of the product from this project – a self-contained presentation, audio elements, high quality visuals. It is a target rich opportunity for co-instruction and individual student coaching to find resources.

I had also been given one class period to come in and offer some direct instruction to all classes – they are mixed ability students with individual 1-1 devices, but as a grade have not had any Library Instruction yet this year – so I wanted to use the time I had well to promote in-house resources as well as instruction…

I then fell into a small pit of despair – with one class period, and multiple objectives – how can I sell this cohort of students on vetted resources AND talk about research skills.

To pull out of this – I began throwing out possible ideas through twitter. While microblogging maybe has lost some of its luster as a generalizable tool, it is a helpful tool for me to get started with writing, teaching, and doing. And, sure enough, I threw out an idea that was then picked up by some other AISL-ers (Many thanks to Dave and Chris for follow up questions).

I wanted to focus on promoting the collection by creating a non-example of research. My initial thought was to create a google slide presentation of the first three hits on google and scrape the data off of them and ask students to evaluate how good a job this did of entertaining and informing them. I’ve done this in the past with non-examples of high quality presentations (THIS example of Tycho Brahe’s life in three minutes is my favorite previous lesson) I veered from this plan a bit, because I realized there might be a more dramatic way of nudging students further a field.

This Fall, our community began reading Artificial Intelligence in Education by Fadel, Holmes and Bialik, as an all staff read for a retreat day. The book covers a broad survey of ways that machine learning algorithms and automated assessments and learning environments might shift the classroom. It’s not a book that you could turn around and use immediately in the classroom, but it forced me to consider some tools that I often forget about – the voice assistant on my students phones.

So, to start this lesson, I picked out volunteers in the class to ask Siri ‘Tell me about Glass Art’ – while I displayed the front page from Wikipedia. I like displaying the front page of Wikipedia when starting to talk about research, because it allows me to verbally walk through criteria of usefulness for an assignment – some pages are better written than others – the History of Glass Art – And sure enough, Siri began reading that Wikipedia page out loud to the class.

The next piece of instruction was a reflective writing Think Pair and Share about how well this resource would allow them to answer ‘How’ they knew the facts presented by the article – this Wikipedia entry is pretty general without specific citations in the early paragraph.

I then walked them through google’s first hit on History of Glass – historyofglass.com

Pretty standard informational site with no citations or visible author. It took some prodding to have students articulate what might be problematic about the site, I include the image because it matches many of the sources that students find when searching the shallow end of the internet – it’s information without context. I then tried to walk them through finding who or why this information existed.

My go to first step for a long time has been to find the about section and unpack what content marketing company has paid a writer – no luck there, so I tried the contact page.

Also vague – so I jumped laterally to the privacy policy – because, as I mentioned in my instruction, information doesn’t just ‘end up’ on the internet- – someone put it there. The page doesn’t have any visible ads – which had my privacy self SPOOKED (I like to feel like I understand WHY the author of a site wants me there).

Nothing really there except normal google analytics. 

The rest of the lesson ended up being focused more on finding music for presentations – a different topic than I want to talk about here, but I’ll share this symbaloo of resources I curated for my students for the project.

What tools are you using to interrupt the automated process of information retrieval? David Loertscher wrote about banning the bird project years ago, but on some level if your classroom teachers want a bird project – how can you use the automated tools to help the classes and students produce something extra? I close with a recommendation. The design podcast, 99% Invisible had an episode about Pepper farming that reflected a bit on the difficulty of designing a machine that could pick pepper plants efficiently. Machines have difficulty with the complex task of pulling the soft vegetable off the hard vine, they tend to either harvest too little, or destroy what they have harvested. They are not good at doing lateral thinking and problem solving to find the harvest. I think that our students need to own this distinctly human skill at problem solving

I’m spending this year thinking about what humans are good at that automation and machine learning alone can’t do. I’m starting my information literacy lesson in the shallows of the internet to make the case for making a deeper dive. What have you been teaching this week?