Waiting for the other tentacle to drop

Tree Octopus website
http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/ website

If you’ve never used this website with students, please have a go when next studying endangered animals or persuasive texts. I had a great science and technology lesson about The Endangered Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus with Stage 3 today.

In preceding weeks, the students had already viewed selected Youtube video clips of rainforest animals, “The Dodo” episode of the TV program “Extinct”, and an array of fiction and non fiction books about endangered animals. We had already discussed concepts such as authority, reliability and publishing dates of the books and clips. Today, in groups, they were asked to explore the Tree Octopus site, reporting on ways the web composer had used persuasive images, design features and text.

For a disturbingly long time, no one questioned the factual content, authority or reliability of the site. It took some students a full 45 minutes to realise they were being fooled by a bogus website. A few remained confident right to the end. Some great dialogue ensued and I know this will be a memorable, cautionary experience which will support their ongoing research in the weeks to come!

Animals of the rainforest (and beyond)

Our school’s Stage 3 students are about to commence a Guided Inquiry HSIE/S&T unit on endangered animals that goes beyond their in-class work on rainforests, and I’ve been searching for WebQuests that we can adapt to suit our first attempt at Guided Inquiry. Yesterday, I set up a new Edublogs site, in which the five classes will share their findings.

So far, in my quest to find a suitable WebQuest, I’m more impressed with the one at Zunal.com, although I need to get some additional “deep thinking” potential into it. However, the site has already led me to some interesting and probably very useful Youtube video clips:

Rainforest animals

Wildlife of the Amazon rainforest (Britannica.com)

Rainforest animals and plant life in the rainforest

This one, “The *original* rainforest rap“, does not permit embedding.

These clips should also be useful:

The rain forest song

Save the rainforests

Destination 2011: Guided inquiry

I’m off tomorrow to a teacher-librarians’ seminar on “Guided Inquiry”, presented by Dr Ross J Todd!

Teacher-librarian Lee FitzGerald, a former editor of “Scan”, is also presenting and last time I heard of her experiences trialling “Guided Inquiry” under Ross’s guidance, I went back to my school and made a point of recording more often student pre-test and post-test results and tracking the emotional side of my students’ self-evaluations, thus gaining very solid statements of the students’ analyses of their learning, in their own words.

Powerful stuff! The Kinder students who were part of a wiki project in 2007 still talk about those experiences to this day, and the Stage 3 students who did a bushrangers WebQuest in 2008, and recorded their learning on a blog, are being represented in a text book very soon!

Both of those successes occurred without the benefit of now seemingly-indispensable elements such as IWBs and the Connected Classroom. Looking forward to tackling the next stage!


Ross Todd
Ross J Todd presents the election speeches of
Obama and Cheney… as Wordles

Newspaper clipping generator: Extra! Extra!

Last term, I worked with Stage 3 students (four Year 5 & 6 classes) on a WebQuest about bushrangers, to complement the work they were doing in class: the Human Society & Its Environment unit, “Gold!”

I started by asking their teachers which elements of the unit, in past years, had been the most difficult to cover in class. Since a lot of home class time was devoted to an engrossing simulation game, the part they felt was suddenly sprung upon the students was the imminent arrival of a “bushranger” (secretly invited teacher or executive staff member), who “robs” the students (who until that point are often reluctant to “bank”). Depending on the whim of the “guest bushranger”, many of the students end up losing a lot of “money”, “gold” and (sometimes) even their gold-seeking equipment in the game.

I ended up creating my own “guided enquiry” WebQuest because existing ones on the Internet encouraged the students to assume the role of a bushranger. (Is it a good idea to have students play lawbreakers / robbers / murderers?) When I came across a fascinating little website called Newspaper clipping generator, I realised that a more positive angle was to have the students be newspaper journalists for a goldrush-era colonial newspaper.

After the preliminary activities, the students worked in small groups to complete a facts matrix using Internet and book resources. During their weekly library sessions, we also focused on the limited photographic and printing technologies and facilities of colonial times, and the need for text-based physical descriptions of their selected bushranger(s).

The presentation format was not announced until all research was completed. Explicit teaching, at point of need, also included deconstruction of effective newspaper headlines and colonial-era “Wanted” posters, discussion of how to select a suitable date for an article, and a focus on colonial newspaper journalistic styles and language (including terms which are not “politically correct” in 2008).

The students’ newspaper clippings about their chosen “notorious” bushrangers are at:

Gold nuggetPre- and post-tests were done to establish how well these WebQuest activities improved the students’ learning. Just watching the confidence of the students as they completed their post-tests told me that the unit of work had been very successful. I shall report further on my findings soon.

Afterthoughts: Ruth Buchanan did a great post over at Skerricks about books versus virtual resources in student research. I mentioned in my comment to her post that our “Gold!” research saw a similar phenomenon to hers, but with our Stage 3 students. With very limited time to complete the task over several weeks, I’d set up lots of “bushrangers research” Internet links from a central online locale, and showed the students which links I thought might be more useful, but many happily scampered off to see what “real books” we also had on the topic.

The biggest problem we found was one link off a WebQuest page: the link was to previous student research from another school (and from several years ago), and the accuracy of that information varied from student to student, even though their final products closely resembled webpages uploaded by so-called “professional” Australian historians.

Similarly, the work we‘ve now uploaded (to the Gold Quest blog we shared with Caddies Creek PS) – to give all the students the chance to share their findings online – is not necessarily 100% accurate.

The whole exercise has also reminded me how much work is involved for an editor to check historical facts in books and websites. I can’t possibly go through every student author’s sources and confirm every detail. To a certain extent, a “chief editor” and publisher must trust an author’s research strategies (and literary licence to express facts in valid ways).

Gold fever!

Gold nuggetIn Week 1 of this term, my Stage 3 students did a pre-test about bushrangers (they are studying “Gold” as an HSIE unit in class), writing down everything they thought we knew, or would like to find out, about bushrangers. We all realised they didn’t know very much. Yet.

Last week, the four classes had a brief look at a 2008 CBCA shortlisted information book, Ned Kelly’s Jerilderie letter (Black Dog, 2007) edited by Carole Wilkinson. Coincidentally, it was a book from our recent Book Fair! It will hopefully help us all to get to know the real Ned Kelly. The students were surprised that Ned Kelly felt he had rightful reasons to be a bushranger, and to be very angry with the police of the day.

This week, the students have been marking up an article with “PMIs” (“plus”, “minus” and “interesting”) to help them explore what they know about bushrangers and life on the historic goldfields of Australia. The chapter was “Law on the Goldfields” (pp 24-25) from Gold in Australia (Macmillan, 1996) by Bruce McClish.

Next week they will start entering data as blog entries at a new blog site, Gold quest started up yesterday by my teacher-librarian colleague, Jenny Scheffers, so we can share our information with the students at her school, through guided enquiry and WebQuests. It is sure to be a steep learning curve for both educators and students, but we are looking forward to it.  To be continued…