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.