Tuesday, April 24, 2012

21st Information Fluency Essential Questions, Day #1--Searching and Evaluating like a pro

If you think about it, most of our successes come from our ability to find the right answer--not whether or not we know it correctly to begin with. This mere fact is becoming more of a reality each day. As a technology coordinator for a small, rural school district, I don't always know every answer to every problem. So, what do I do to find the answer: I search for it and evaluate my answer choices to see which is the most effective. When I took my six Google certification exams, answers to several of the questions had changed. What did I do? I opened up the training modules (located in the Google training center) and searched for the correct answer. The abilities to search, locate sources, evaluate sources, and broaden your network are 21st century skills that define a person's success. Think about how many times you have had to search for something recently? We note that students do not memorize dates like they used to and they can't pull off quick math equations like they used to. These are all true accusations. However, are those skills as necessary? Now, students can bypass those steps and move onto even greater learning. What used to take months to memorize historical dates, students can do in minutes. With the extra time available, how can we challenge them to use that material? Our job skill sets are changing, so shouldn't learning and teaching change as well?

Ken Kay of The Partnership for 21st Century Skills attempts to combine the "traditional three Rs of education with the four Cs [of 21st century skills]: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity." A merging of these skills within core content will "ensure that all students are able to compete in the global economy."

Being able to find, manage, and evaluate information (critical thinking) through a collaborative network is the most important skill set we can teach our students.

To begin, it is important to understand what each skill is. Thinkfinity (part of the Verizon foundation) gives some helpful lessons.

  • Critical Thinking
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
Critical Thinking is a good starting place. If you are not able to think critically, it is difficult to collaborate and communicate within a larger network. When I taught high school English, I began my searching and evaluation units with a searching questionnaire or needs assessment to see what my students knew about searching. Though most understood the value of searching (that's how they attempted to find most of their answers), many did not know how to search effectively. As a result, the information they supplied was incorrect often. And, they were frustrated over their inability to get the correct information. 

After the initial survey, I implemented the 21st Century Information Fluency Model in my classroom. Before we began any project that involved research, we used this model to search and evaluate information. Eventually, it became ingrained and it was no longer just a model we used for research--it was a skill. Though teaching effective searching and evaluation techniques add extra time to an already packed curriculum, they are essential. If we teach our students how to think critically, the curriculum becomes less important; critical thinking is a skill that allows students to succeed and a variety of contexts. 

The Fluency model has many free and at-cost tutorials. My favorite, however, are the wizard tools (search, evaluation, and citation). Each wizard tool walks students through the correct critical thinking process. With the searching model, students are provided with questions to guide them through their search. They can also play games to evaluate their searching skills. A Google a Day also gives students the opportunity to test their searching knowledge. 

The Evaluation model walks students through the appropriate evaluation criteria for selecting sources. 

We search everyday, but how skilled of searchers are we? Try the searching model or a Google a Day and test your knowledge. Do you prepare your students for the skill or content? 

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