How do students’ research skills turn into love of inquiry? The answer is HackHealth! I work in a middle school library with grades six through eight. Because I serve a population of over 1,000 students, it is challenging to see all of my students on a regular basis. When I did see them, their research skills were very basic and most of them knew only Google. Although I love Google myself, I know that there is so much more that goes into research. How can I teach these skills to students with the limited time that I have with them?
Researchers at the University of Maryland (UMD) in College Park came to me with the idea to form a weekly after-school program, HackHealth, to teach students how to research health topics that interest them. I jumped at the opportunity. My first step was to recruit students. There are several very effective ways to do this, but I will focus on the method that I used because it worked so well for me. I approached my school’s science team. I told them about the HackHealth program and asked them to recommend students who were interested and would benefit from this program. I received responses back from almost 20 students who were interested. We had an initial meeting with approximately 12 interested students where the program was introduced by the UMD researchers.
Implementing the Program
The HackHealth program at my school lasted for 12 weeks. During the first session, I talked with them about choosing a topic. Our students viewed short videos introducing them to the program. The next step was to explore possible sources for their research. Students brainstormed sources which they would use to find credible information. For example, would they use the Internet, ask a family member, read a newspaper? They discussed the pros and cons of each of these sources based on prior knowledge.
How to Take Notes
UMD researchers and I went over notetaking skills. Three skills were introduced: Mind-mapping, tables, and making lists. The students were introduced to each method and then formed groups to practice these methods. At the end, they were asked to present their assigned note-taking strategy to the group. The group discussed which method is most effective for which circumstances.
Credibility Screenshot Activity
We used posters of various health-related Web pages for this activity. The posters included: WebMD, Dr. Oz, Wikipedia, a government website (alzheimers.gov), a blog (“Sharing my life with Lewy Body Dementia”) and a kids health website (KidsHealth.org). The students were given red and green post-its. The red represented not credible. The green represented credible. The students wrote why they felt the website was credible or not on their post-its. We got together at the end of this activity to discuss the differences in opinion and how to handle the “grey” areas on assessing credibility of online information.
Another activity that focused on the validity and relevancy of websites was an iEvaluate activity. Students were given a list of websites that appeared at first sight legitimate, but were all hoax websites. They were asked to evaluate these websites by looking at the website’s purpose, finding the author of the website, and analyzing whether they learned anything from the website. Our students noticed a few red flags like no author name, no contact information, and facts that just didn’t seem accurate (like a tree-climbing octopus!)
After all of the learning and hard work, it is finally time to show us what they know. Our students were given several options to present their research findings and they did so very creatively. We had an interview about discrimination against handicapped people, a Prezi about bronchitis, a song about thyroid disease, an interpretive dance about Kawasaki disease, and a chart presentation regarding sickle cell anemia.
And best yet…they were very excited about returning again next year!
I would HIGHLY recommend HackHealth for library media specialists or any educator who is interested in teaching their students research skills. The activities are so varied that students with different learning styles will benefit. For educators who implement HackHealth, the options of lesson plans and activities are so varied that they can be incorporated into a variety of lessons. To me, the abundance of lesson plans and activities, and the flexibility of this program are its strengths. HackHealth can turn any student into a skilled researcher.
See http://hackhealth.umd.edu/about-us/project-phases/ to access the lesson plans and activities.
–Melissa Bethea is the school library media specialist at Charles Carroll Middle School in Prince George’s County Public Schools.