Wicked Problem Project Part C: The Implementation Saga

It is time to implement the Project and I dove right in with a fourth grade class. It went… well, it went rather poorly based on MANY factors, most of which was outside of my control. The project isn’t a loss and it is recoverable, but not without extensive reteaching. So, in this blog post I will speak of the Surprises, Collaborative Input I received, how I’d revise it, what went wrong, what went right, and what I plan to do going forward. First, here is some of the evidence I got from the project. I used a program called Kidspiration for this mapping exercise. Notice how empty the results are. That was mostly my inadequate planning on time allowance. More on that later.

Surprise!

In the implementation phase of the project, I planned to first compare and contrast electronic resource subscription services and their search engines to Google. My plan was to get students talking about how these were similar and different. The most overt surprise I ran into was the aspect of time. I expected this discussion and exploration project to take less than 40 minutes as I was expecting the kids navigation skills and knowledge of Google to basically run the lesson quickly. I was partially right. Their knowledge of Google (in a basic sense) was good. The navigation skills getting to the electronic resources was surprisingly difficult (I’ll get to that later). Where it was surprising is that we didn’t get more than halfway through the discussion aspect before running out of time! I was also surprised at the electronic resources I showed them (Kid Search via EBSCOHost) having so little informational articles on a topic. Instead, it had the topic as pertaining to current events.

Collaborative Efforts

In this project, I experienced many difficulties (I’ll cover them in “What went wrong”) and in so doing decided it would be best to speak to my colleagues as to what they do. So far, I’m still gathering information but of what responses I’ve received thus far, the answer is rather interesting. Other librarians and technology educators who perform research with students tend to be on the restrictive side of things with regards to Google. It goes from the most lax approach which is: Google is a last resort. It goes to the extreme of no Google use allowed. I can understand the wishes of the librarians who wish to move students away from Google as it can lead to overwhelming result lists and inconsistent, to downright incorrect, information being used for academic reasons. However, both approaches I’ve listed are rather flawed in that it does not take into account of building a familiarity with other options with students so as to give the students reason to utilize those resources AT HOME rather than Google. It also does not promote the proper use of Google. In effect, Google is being treated much like Wikipedia. I find this not to be helpful because all the students learn is that we use Google at home and what the teachers want at school. Maybe what I’m about to say next belongs in the “Surprises” section but… in its initial implementation thus far, I’m starting to feel that the answer isn’t stemming the use of Google, but rather teaching students how to use it properly. I will know more this week of what other colleagues do regarding Google but thus far, I’m uncertain of how effective they are with regards to my problem statement.

What Went Wrong

There were a lot of things, unfortunately, that went wrong in the initial implementation. I already spoke about the time allowance, but two major factors hurt my project implementation: Mother Nature, and State and Federal compulsory testing. Mother nature struck in the form of a major blizzard. That cancelled school the days I was to see the fourth grade class I implemented the project on. As a specialist, I only see each class for 40 minutes per week, so sustained teaching like what a classroom teacher could achieve isn’t possible. This in itself contributes to “what went wrong.” Another is Federal Standardized Testing, called Acuity. Acuity runs until the middle of next week. We then have parent/teacher conferences, a week of normal school, then Spring Break. When we get back, we get NeSA, or the State standardized testing. That goes from the last week of March until the end of the first week in May. I lose, in effect, 8 more weeks of normal classes because for that entire time that testing is going on, I have only intermittent access to technology. I believe (I will know more the next time we have school) I will be able to get laptops for the next time I have these fourth graders and I’ll spend it reteaching and improving things but it is hard to plan if there is uncertainty.

Another thing that went wrong was the design of my school’s website. We had a long process to navigate to where we intended to go and not every student was able to do it without getting sidetracked or making mistakes. I’m considering creating a desktop shortcut directly to our electronic resources page because of this.

The final flaw I ran into was of my own design. When we finally got to the electronic resources, I expected to find information about a topic similar, but more academically acceptable, to what the student finds on Google. That was very naive of me and what we discovered wasn’t anything close. Still, students were keen on pointing out that the information within the search results were all truthful and not subject to questioning with regards to validity.

What Went Right

The most obvious success in the project was the look in their eyes and the group “A HA” moment when the students realized that they didn’t always have to just trudge through endless search results using Google and that some of the electronic resources that are Google Alternatives are resources they use already. It validated much of their efforts thus far this year. Which got an aside from me analytically in the fact that there isn’t much positive reinforcement being given for the processes utilized. It is more of a product-based critical process. I was very excited to see how my students took to the initial lesson and how eager they were to learn of alternatives much like they’d be if they went to an old-fashioned ice cream shop and got to see that there are more flavors than just chocolate and vanilla.

How I’d revise it

There’s always room for improvement and the first thing I’d do to improve my lesson is to provide my students with a graphic organizer to plot their own findings. They didn’t have anything to record what they discovered and not everyone got a chance to share. I’d also have more time allotted just to the first lesson alone. Learning how to navigate was a necessary part of the lesson, but I felt it didn’t go smoothly. I think going through icon images before navigating, much like how vocabulary is learned prior to reading a story, is essential so that the students can find a way to get to where they need to go. I am also planning a lesson on how to create shortcuts to help them find their way faster on subsequent visits to the site. One of the key elements in the solution to my Wicked Problem is easing access to Google Alternatives. This will be a key component moving forward.

Where to Go From Here

What I think I’d do is a mini project akin to “Adopt An E-Resource” where I’d have groups study an electronic resource of their choice and then compare it to Google. Then present it to the class and teach the other students a few basic things they’ve learned. I’m also planning a project using the lessons on AllAboutExplorers.com in the arena of Website Evaluation. It is a fabulous website that uses group work and explorers to teach how even text that looks legit can be filled with errors and that it is the reader’s job to make sure that they are using the right information.

We will see what happens next. In all truth, however, I could see the path further down leading me more towards how to properly use Google and when to use Google rather than straight promotion of electronic resources. We’ll have to see where it goes.

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