The Missouri Reader Vol. 40, Issue 1 - Page 48

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by Cindy Hail, Beth Hurst, Randall Wallace, and Deanne Camp

“Did you know that the Nile River is not just in Egypt?”

“Did you know that Angel Falls is the tallest waterfall in the world?”

“Can I write another story using what I learned about the Eiffel Tower?”

When I first started teaching second grade, we did a yearly geography unit on the seven continents and five oceans. I loved teaching this unit, but it originally went little beyond the basic knowledge level of identifying names and shapes on a map. Sure, my students knew where Asia is located, but did they really know anything about the people or places located there? Had they developed the necessary skills to uncover more information on their own? Had they built connections that would help them comprehend and utilize this information in the future? Probably not, and the unit definitely did not garner the types of excited questions noted above.

During my second year of teaching, the concept of a WebQuest was added to my teacher toolkit through eMINTS training, and this definitely altered my thinking in terms of content integration. After all, the world is no longer a simple pencil and paper kind of place. Times are changing and, “As the Internet is redefining literacy, incorporating online research and comprehension skills into existing curriculum instruction is necessary for today’s digital age” (Kinsley & Tancock, 2013, pp. 397-398). This can seem daunting with younger elementary students, but WebQuests can provide them the structure they need to begin the process of internet inquiry. To further explain, “WebQuests have become a popular instructional model for engaging learners on the Internet. A WebQuest is a teacher-designed web page that packages various learning tasks and activities for students to complete using Internet resources” (Vacca, Vacca, & Mraz, 2011, p. 46). They are a great tool for younger students because the teacher is able to find appropriate sites that enable students to practice their researching skills in a safe, scaffolded environment. Without this framework, “it is unlikely that many students who use the Internet possess adequate skills and strategies to efficiently and effectively negotiate the realms of available information to learn new content knowledge” (Ikpeze & Boyd, 2007, p. 645). By including all of the tasks, websites, and materials needed to complete the project, I narrowed the Internet choices and allowed my students to develop their skills in a more age-appropriate fashion.

I chose to create my WebQuest integrating elements from our social studies, reading, and writing curriculum,

as well as technology standards. The goal was to cover our continents and oceans unit, as well as elements of fiction inspired by Jeff Brown’s beloved Flat Stanley novel. As our class explored geography, problem and solution, and narrative writing, each group of four had the opportunity to research one of the seven continents and work together to write a new Flat Stanley adventure incorporating their discovered facts. Then teammates utilized their technology skills further by working together to publish these stories as PowerPoint presentations that were shared with the class.

In a study of six fifth-grade students, Ikpeze and Boyd (2007) found that Webquests “can facilitate thoughtful literacy when tasks are carefully selected, organized, and delivered” (p. 647). However, they also discovered that problems can arise including navigation issues and difficulties in reading multimedia. Because of this, I knew a lot of scaffolding would be necessary in completing a WebQuest with a class of second graders. Therefore, before students completed each step of the process, we discussed the directions together as a group. I also modeled how to do each step, including completion of a research graphic organizer (an example of the graphic organizer can be found on the WebQuest link provided below) and an example of a completed PowerPoint story over Antarctica. I chose this continent as my example because it was the most difficult to research in terms of Internet resources, thus showing how to complete the project without taking away a topic that was more suitable for my students.

Creating a WebQuest does take additional work in the beginning. Instead of my students just researching in books, I had to find specific websites to correspond with landmarks in each of the seven continents. I also had to create an original website to provide the directions, materials, and research information needed for my students to complete the project. However, even though this required more initial planning and scaffolding, during the project I was able to take on a facilitatorrole and have more one-on-one and small group time. Instead of hearing facts from me, my students were researching and making decisions on how to use the information. This project-based learning was a wonderful process to witness. Just standing in my room, one could feel the energy as my students watched video clips and read articles about different places they had never before experienced. Mangelson & Castek (2008), stated, “Webquests are a great way to engage students in responding to literature, using the Internet, and solving authentic problems” (p. 46). It was also great to see how well they collaborated. Within the project, I had students work in pairs during the initial Internet research portion. This is one area I altered over the years. It was definitely a way to differentiate for my readers who were below grade-level and still enable them to research and take part like everyone else, while my readers above grade-level got to internalize their learning by helping others. Each pair of students completed a graphic organizer over one of the landmarks located within their selected continent. This included information over the climate, location, interesting features, and visitor activities. After gathering this information, the teams joined back together to decide how they could incorporate these elements of their research into a Flat Stanley adventure.

I really enjoyed seeing the creativity my students used when writing their group stories. Each group of four

Utilizing WebQuests to Integrate Content While Engaging Students in Our World

Cheri Gump