Monday, May 12, 2014

Teachable Moments: The URL

Has a student ever asked a question during class that has caused you to stop and "Google it?" This is an almost daily occurrence in my classroom especially when we are reading any sort of text (especially non-fiction) or observing a special holiday. If you left it up to your students to choose the best result to find the answer to their question, would they make a good choice?

By taking the 10 seconds it takes you to read and select a search result to share with your students and extending it to one or two minutes, you can engage their critical thinking skills and help them develop the same ability to quickly assess the credibility of a site. Just the other day one of my students asked me, "How many oceans are there?" while reading about ocean habitats. We decided to Google the answer as a class and upon viewing the results, many of my students were drawn to the listing from

This led to a discussion about how the name did seem to be related to our situation as individuals looking for an answer, but the content on the site was provided by any individual on the Internet who wanted to respond. Instead of allowing our valuable instructional time to be taken up by delving deeply into how you could tell who was posting the information on the certain websites, I drew their attention to the domain name within the website URLs.

Now, there is no need (well, no urgent need) to start talking in acronyms and computer language to your young learners, but it doesn't mean you should ignore these key characteristics of the Internet. For my second graders, this meant relating a search result to how an address. The large title of the search result is similar to the name of the people who live in a particular house and the gray www. listing underneath is comparable to the address of their home.

My students quickly grasped this concept, however, the first time we made this comparison I did a few examples on the white board so the students could visually understand the similarities since they do not regularly address letters, etc. I then related the .com, .gov, .edu portion of the URL to the state abbreviation in a physical address. Finally, I explained the simple meanings behind a few domains.

.com - space purchased by companies or individuals
.gov - space controlled by the government
.edu - space controlled by a school, university, or educational organization
.org - space owned by an organization or group that does not make money/a profit

With just a few guiding questions like...

- Do you think a school is honest or trustworthy?
- Do you think the government is honest or trustworthy?
- If someone is trying to make money would they be more or less likely to be be truthful with their information?
- Which ending would you choose first, second, third, fourth, and why?

my students were able to quickly adjust their desired selection from the search results to reflect a more reliable choice. I will caution you that this should not be the only discussion you have about evaluating search results since there are several other pieces of information that can be gathered from the result entries that can be even more influential than the domain name. But, this conversation can serve as a good jumping off point and provides young learners with a basic hierarchy for evaluating search results.

If you want to continue the dialogue about evaluating search results with your students, consider drawing their attention to whether a date is present in the result or do a modified five finger test on the brief description.

Every Monday I will be highlighting a small moment during the school day that could be easily used for teaching educational technology skills and content with minimal interruption to your scheduled lesson plan. These teachable moments are valuable opportunities to help your young learners become digitally literate! I will also be including some ideas to transform these moments into stand alone lessons, as well.