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Posts from the ‘research’ Category

Ed tech is good for kids. Except when it isn’t.

Some things just don’t make sense when we first try wrapping our heads around them. The balloon should move backwards like everything else in the car. Working together to solve a problem makes sense. Chilling water at 150 degrees to 32 degrees should be harder to do than chilling water that starts at 75 degrees.

Only it’s not.

How about this one?

  • Ed tech is good for kids. Except when it’s not.

The whole point of History Tech is focused on finding ways to integrate technology into social studies best practices. Ed tech is a good thing. Ed tech can be used to support data collection and analysis, critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving, communication. It’s a good thing.

Except when it’s not.

Recent research seems to suggest that there are times when using technology Read more

Is Google making our students dumber? And should we care?

Dumber may be too strong of a word. But it does seem as if Google and social media are changing the way we think.

Perhaps the bigger question?

Is that a good or bad thing?

It’s not a new question. Way back in 2007, Mashable author Stan Schroeder highlighted his concerns with Google:

It will be interesting to see how this – if it keeps up, and my bet is that it will – will affect our ability to think in the future.

In 2008, Atlantic Monthly author Nicolas Carr shared his concerns about how the web was changing the way we think:

. . . media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.

Carr expanded his thinking a bit in a book titled Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.

In 2011, Adam Clark Estes suggested that

we’re not necessarily losing our ability to remember things. Rather, the internet is changing how we remember. Ars Technica sums up the results nicely, “People are recalling information less, and instead can remember where to find the information they have forgotten.”

A more recent article at Salon has re-opened the can of worms and starts by saying that “we’re hooked on Read more

CiteLighter – Handy online research, citation, bibliography, sharing tool

Yes. I admit it. I watch the Food Channel. So sue me.

It’s not like I’m addicted or anything. I like eating food. I like making food. And so . . . I will watch Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives or the occasional Throwdown with Booby Flay.

But I don’t watch as much since Alton Brown’s Good Eats was moved to a weekday morning time slot. You remember Alton Brown. Nerdy guy. Science facts. Easy stuff to make. Yeah, that guy. He said a lot of things but one thing he repeated quite often:

The only one-task item you need in your kitchen is the fire extinguisher.

His argument? You shouldn’t own any kitchen gadget that doesn’t have more than one use.

Yeah. So? Read more

Open source history, Wikipedia, and Encyclopedia Britannica

It’s the end of an era.

The print version of Encyclopedia Britannica is no longer. And just when I was getting psyched up to pay $1,395 for the 32 volume set.

It’s not really a surprise, is it? Owning a four figure set of books that are out-of-date as soon as you crack them open in the age of instant information just doesn’t make sense.

But the question many still have is

Can we trust instant, online information?

What people are really asking is

Can we trust Wikipedia? Should we let our students use it for historical research?

The simple answer?


For all you social studies teachers out there who aren’t letting your students use Wikipedia as one of their research tools . . . I’ll try and say this as gently as possible

For general research and gathering of foundational knowledge, Wikipedia is as good or better than other forms of encyclopedias. So it’s gonna be okay. Turn the kids loose.

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia with thousands of contributors, hundreds of paid editors, almost four million articles, automatic daily deletions of textual additions by anyone without a verified account, multiple languages, on-going fact checking, and live updates of current events. With such as a tool, one might expect problems,  mistakes, and inaccuracies.

But the interesting thing is that it seems as if Wikipedia’s problems with accuracy aren’t any bigger than more traditional tools.  More and more research is being done on the reliability of Wikipedia information:

And, of course, Wikipedia has its own article on the Reliability of Wikipedia. (Feel free to discuss that irony in the comments.)

In 2004, IBM researchers suggested that one strength of Wikipedia is that “vandalism is usually repaired extremely quickly — so quickly that most users will never see its effects” and that it had “surprisingly effective self-healing capabilities.”

Need some history research on the use of Wikipedia?

In June 2006, Roy Rosenzweig, a professor who specialized in American history and was the founding director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, published a comparison of the Wikipedia biographies of 25 Americans to the corresponding biographies found on Encarta and American National Biography Online. He wrote that Wikipedia

is surprisingly accurate in reporting names, dates, and events in U.S. history.

In the 25 biographies I read closely, I found clear-cut factual errors in only four. Most were small and inconsequential.

Rosenzwig continues:

To find four entries with errors in 25 biographies may seem a source for concern, but in fact it is exceptionally difficult to get every fact correct in reference works. “People don’t realize how hard it is to nail the simplest things,” noted Lars Mahinske, a senior researcher for Britannica. I checked 10 Encarta biographies for figures that also appear in Wikipedia, and in the commercial product I found at least three biographies with factual mistakes. Even the carefully edited American National Biography Online, whose biographies are written by experts, contains at least one factual error in the 25 entries I examined closely.

He did make the same observation that other research has made – Wikipedia is as accurate as other sources but perhaps not as well written:

If the unpaid amateurs at Wikipedia have managed to outstrip an expensively produced reference work such as Encarta and provide a surprisingly comprehensive and largely accurate portrait of major and minor figures in U.S. history, professional historians need not fear that Wikipedians will quickly put them out of business. Good historical writing requires not just factual accuracy but also a command of the scholarly literature, persuasive analysis and interpretations, and clear and engaging prose.

Our job has changed from what it was when I started teaching way back in 1987. Our job in the 21st century is not to deliver foundational knowledge.

Training kids to think critically, to persuade effectively, and to communicate well. That’s what we need to be doing. Grant Wiggins asks us

So, suppose knowledge is not the goal of education. Rather, suppose today’s content knowledge is an offshoot of successful ongoing learning in a changing world – in which ‘learning’ means ‘learning to perform in the world.’

So what’s the point of all of this?

Wikipedia is not perfect. No encyclopedia is. It is as “perfect” as any other basic research tool.

But you and your students should be using Wikipedia because of its cost, its anywhere/anytime access, its ease of use, its ability to update quickly, and because it offers rich citations and references to other print and online material.

Should students cite Wikipedia in their bibliographies? Probably not. Same with  the online version of Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedias aren’t designed to be primary or even secondary sources. They list basic, foundational knowledge and are best used as a starting point for research, rather than an end.

Nothing more, nothing less.

So go ahead and let your kids loose on Wikipedia. It’s gonna be okay. The end of one era means the start of another.

Tip of the Week – 21st Century Historical Thinking and Research

Doing history is not the same as it used to be. Online archives, digital primary sources, software for student products, mobile access. All of these things combine to make research in the 21st century different than when you and I were in school.

So today a few places you can go to help make the transition a bit easier:

Historical Thinker
This site is dedicated to promoting the teaching of historical logic and skills.  Chief among our goals is to provide resources that make writing sophisticated research papers in history easier. Created by a couple of teachers, you’ll find helpful templates and presentations.

Stanford History Education Group
An incredibly useful site with curriculum ready to go, SHEG teaches students how to investigate historical questions employing reading strategies such as sourcing, contextualizing, corroborating, and close reading.

Digital History
This page of much deeper site provides support for writing history in the 21st century.

Teaching History with Technology
Aims to help K-12 history and social studies teachers incorporate technology effectively into their courses. THWT provides a multitude of free online resources.

Historical Thinking Matters
HTM focuses on key topics in U.S. history and is designed to teach students how to critically read primary sources and how to critique and construct historical narratives.

History and New Media
Digital history is an approach to examining and representing the past that takes advantage of new communication technologies such as computers and the Web. It draws on essential features of the digital realm, such as databases, hypertextualization, and networks, to create and share historical knowledge.

Do History: History Toolkit
Part of the Martha Ballard diary site, this page outlines a useful process for researching and writing history.

National History Day
NHD helps students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, research and reading skills, and oral / written communication and presentation skills.

Have fun!

Simple English Wikipedia makes it . . . well, easier

Okay . . . if you’re a Wikipedia hater, calmly move along. Nothing to see here. (Go here instead. Or maybe even here. Then feel free to come on back. We’re gonna go ahead and start without you but jump in anytime.)

If you believe that Wikpedia has value and can be used appropriately as a teaching and learning tool, then I just learned about a cool little tool that may be useful.

Of course, Wikipedia has its main site in a wide variety of languages with thousands of articles. The English version has over 3,000,000 articles. Lots of great info here.

But one issue that I’ve heard K-8 teachers talk about is reading level. Because Wikipedia articles are written mostly by adults, for mostly adults readers, many articles can be difficult for K-8 students to comprehend. Even some high school kids may run into problems making sense of many Wikipedia articles.

For example, the article on Abraham Lincoln averages out at around 17.0 using two different Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level tests. So if I’m an 8th grader doing research on the Civil War or a fourth grader learning about presidents, the article just doesn’t do me much good.

Enter the cool tool.

Simple English Wikipedia.

We use Simple English words and grammar here. The Simple English Wikipedia is for everyone! That includes children and adults who are learning English.

It has a smaller article database (only some 17,000) but the idea is that the articles are written with the same basic content as the “grownup” version but with shorter sentences, smaller words and a simpler paragraph structure.

The Lincoln article on Simple English Wikipedia averages out on the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level at around 8.0. Still useful info but just easier for younger kids to deal with.

Cool idea.

One more reason to not hate Wikipedia.

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