Many teachers have experienced the frustration of assigning a topic for a research project, then giving students a block of time in the computer lab, only to discover at the end of the class period that the students spent most of their time looking at sites that were off topic, or otherwise useless. Chances are that if a teacher sent her students off on an internet search with so little guidance, she uses the same methods, and wastes her own time in similar fashion. It is likely that this teacher and her students began with a basic Google search, which is much like tossing a worm into the ocean to catch a fish.
The tech savvy teacher knows that the best educational websites have already been collected by others and are organized by topic, grade level, or content standards, and take the time-wasting guesswork out of this fishing expedition.
It is likely too, that in this class there were a few students who were able to sort through the endless hit or miss websites to come up with the valuable resources that they needed. In the planning stages of this research assignment, the teacher needs to use differentiated instruction strategies. For example, on his Educational Web Resource pages, John Kuglin has linked to ikeepbookmarks.
With this bookmarking tool, the teacher can select several on-target sites in advance and put them in a folder. The student who is working on the fist levels of Blooms levels of cognitive understanding can remain focused on finding the facts that they need and are able to comprehend. The students who are working at the upper levels can begin with this folder and then seek out additional sites to analyze and synthesize the information that they discover. This group of students would investigate Bernie Dodge’s “Four Nets for Better Web Searching.”
Tomlinson advises that the differentiated classroom promote on-task behavior (37). With the best of intentions, the teacher can assign the research topic of alternative fuels. She thinks this is specific and will serve to focus her students on bio-fuels, wind power and such. But within seconds, someone will find race car fuel, then Dale Earnhardt’s home page, then call out to his friends, and they all run to see the crash photos, and then more time is wasted getting everyone back on task. This lost time has a negative impact on learning.
In a better scenario, the teacher directs her students to one of the many links that she discovered on Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators. The environmental science page lists specific topics in science that link to further sites—all on topic. For optimal gains in learning, the teacher has separated the sites she plans to use according to the choices that the students have made and their level of understanding. Each student or student group would find their target sites in a folder, bookmarked especially to suit their needs. She can tell her students the same thing that I tell mine, “I only get you for 180 days; we don’t have time to go fishing on the internet.”