Inside The InstaGrok Research Tool

One of my weaknesses in teaching is clearly research. I admit it. I’ve certainly taught research skills, and have students use research in writing, but I have never been all that comfortable with figuring out the most effective ways to get my students using the Internet for solid background knowledge gathering and evidence to use in their writing. Partly, it is me. But it is also the ‘wild west’ nature of Search Engines, and the lack of focus that Google and Bing and others bring to the table for young writers.

Still, with the shift of our state into Common Core, which has a huge research component to it, I know I can’t let this part of the curriculum slide. I need to teach them basic research skills. It’s as simple as that.

So, when I heard about InstaGrok, I was intrigued. It is billed as an online research tool for students, which focuses search content, but still brings in video, images, websites, information and more.  (Plus, the site creates an interesting interactive quiz area, where students can test their expertise). And what is best of all — the site archives and collects notes that students want to remember and use in later writing. Last week, I set up a classroom account in InstaGrok (in a matter of minutes) and after a period of “playing around” with the site, I had them working deep on an environmental essay project.

So far, so good.

By setting up a teacher account (which is free, as is the entire site … at least for now) on Instagrok, I can get a bird’s eye view of the research being done by my student, and even glimpse inside their journal, where they are collecting notes. I can pop in, as I did over the weekend, and get a sense of each student’s progress on the project, and notice areas where I need to do a little more one-on-one teaching, or checking in with them this week. And the students are loving InstaGrok, too, and some are using it at home, showing their parents.

instagrok screenshot

 

instagrok screenshot2
Peace (in the research),
Kevin

 

 

4 Comments
  1. Ooooo…. this looks amazing! I admit it, I am falling down in this area as well. I often “set them loose” and then wonder why they have no idea what they just discovered. I’ll need to play with this site myself and see if it can help me give my students a better feel for this important skill.

  2. This seems great! I have only a small issue with the “key facts” list, because depending on the search term I used (postmodernism, specifically), segments of opinion pieces were located within those results. For example:
    “Postmodernism poses a threat to college students and to the very existence higher learning itself. [more]”

    This is not really an issue for some college students, but pairing this tool with exercises in argument and credibility might prove very helpful to those students who are very new to academic writing and research.

    • That’s a great point, and I am glad that you pointed that out, Krista. It makes me even more aware of how I need to teach “understanding sources and search engines” and evaluating information for bias. We have not seen that so much with the research that my sixth graders are doing, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
      Kevin

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