Finding Reliable Online Resources

By fourth grade, most students feel pretty comfortable using the internet to find answers to questions, what they may not realize is that not everything found on the internet is completely reliable.  This week, students will learn how to use the internet to find scholarly resources.  This means resources that are considered reliable enough to use for publication.  When we first had a talk about using the internet, students insisted that Wikipedia was the best place to go.  While even adults use Wikipedia for fast answers (myself included), using it to support facts being presented is not considered a valid source for published research because anyone with a computer can go in and change the information presented without fully backing up their facts.

One of the first search engines that can be used to find scholarly research is Google Scholar.  click here Using Scholar, you will have access to many scholarly journal articles and online books.  The downside of using Google Scholar is that not all the articles are available for free, and you may only have access to the abstract (the short summary or thesis of the article presented)

The better news is, that with a library card, your child has access to multiple academic search engines and databases containing the full article.  If you want to try it out at home, simply go to your library's website and look up online resources.  Click here for Mesa Libraryclick here for Phoenix library.  With a library card, it becomes a ticket that opens the door to many resources. Here you will find online encyclopedias, collections of magazine and newspaper sources, and even a biography database!  I like to use Academic Search Premier to find a variety of sources on the topic.  This has been a good search engine to use when my children have had to research obscure topics, such as the history of clothing among native Peruvian peoples.  Many universities and community colleges also have even more extensive collections available.  If you were ever a student at a particular institute of higher learning, you may have access to that collection online.

The students will be able to use the computers in the classroom for a limited amount of time (and will have access to articles found via Rio Salado College) , however if they can use the computers at home, it will be to their benefit.  They may need some assistance setting up an online library account.  Try to resist the urge to type in the search criteria for them, rather, let them be in the driver's seat and you can offer suggestions as needed.  

Learning to research properly is a lifelong practical life skill that can be mastered early with the right support and practice on the part of the child.  My middle school and high school students have no problem completing their research mostly on their own, after having had sufficient guided practice in the years previous.  Allowing the time to do that (it may take hours in the beginning) sets the foundation for anxiety-free homework experiences in the subsequent grades.

A gentle reminder:  Students need 3-5 resources for their project, 2 of which must be a print resource and at least one can be a suitable online resource found with an academic search engine or ending with the prefix .edu.  Print resources can also include magazine or newspaper articles that are available online.


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