Testing the Thesis: Completing Preliminary Research with Online Databases

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SWBAT locate and evaluate the credibility of sources they discover supporting and refuting their proposed research topic by using three academic online databases.

Big Idea

Forget microfiche...Boolean searching, online academic databases, & Evernote make research a dream. If these kids only knew “the old days…”


15 minutes

Since the last class period, we have had several snow days in a row, putting us behind in our research schedule.  Because of this issue, we will be moving our Chapter 2 & 3 quiz over Of Mice & Men to next class period and using this class period to get a start on gathering research for the argumentative research paper.  

First, students will need to set up their own Evernote account.  I discovered this application and connected it to potentially improving the research paper experience last year, and since then, our entire English department has fallen in love with it!  The tech department already downloaded the Evernote app onto all students' Chromebooks, but students can also access their accounts through the Evernote.com website or apps on their smartphones.  This flexibility paired with other features available for collaboration and organization make the platform ideal for research.  Next, they will need to go to the Evernote Web Clipper extension in the Chrome store (or at Evernote.com/webclipper) to add-on this feature to make gathering research into their digital notebooks seamless.  To help students with this process, I will model this procedure using the projector.  I have also made a video of the same process that students can watch and follow independently or at home if they are absent.  


Once their Evernote accounts are set up and they have installed the Web Clipper extension, students need to follow the directions on the "2013-2014 Preliminary Research Directions" handout to create, name, and share an Evernote Notebook with me for their research paper.  Again, I will model this on the board, but all students have access to several forms of directions throughout the process so that they can go their own pace.  

Building Knowledge

15 minutes

Next, I will review the introduction to the Preliminary Research Directions handout, emphasizing that students may not change topics after today and have a clear set of outcomes they must meet by the end of our period.  Then, I will demonstrate the "magic" of Boolean searches for my students to help them search these resources more effectively.  While many pundits claim this generation of students knows everything there is to know about technology, I want to emphasize that while they know LOTS about technology, they often don't know about really useful practices of the internet like Boolean searching.  Once learned, Boolean searching makes everything on the internet more effective, so this is an ideal skill to teach students with many real-world applications.  In order to demonstrate Boolean searching, I will mirror my computer screen on our projector, then complete the following steps:

  1. Explain that Boolean searching is simply an awesome word for searching effectively using conjunctions and quotation marks to refine search results.  It can be used anywhere a search bar is present, including Google, these online databases, your email, or even my website.
  2. Show students the need to limit search results by typing in my name into Google, which yields millions of results.  (Be careful with this for a few reasons.  First, you want to know what's going to show up about you, obviously.  Secondly, Google actually learns your interests and narrows your search results for you, so if you search yourself too much for multiple classes, it will start limiting results FOR you, making it less dramatic!)  To highlight why this is, I will explain that searching this way gives the search engine the requirement that both "Cassy" and "McCoy" show up anywhere on the page returned in the results.  This does not require them to be together, so if you have "Cassy Carey" and "William McCoy" on the same page, this search will turn that up.
  3. The quickest way to limit results is to use quotation marks to "lock" together the results returned.  A search for "Cassy McCoy" would require both words to be directly next to one another because of the quotation marks.  This will substantially limit your results, but it may not be enough.  
  4. To get even more concise results, I will show students the other element of Boolean searching, which is adding search terms together using the word "and."  For example, a search of "Cassy McCoy" and "Master Teacher Project" is going to return results that have my full name and the entire phrase "Master Teacher Project" somewhere on that one webpage.  If you're interested in my college life, perhaps searching "Cassy McCoy" and "NIU" or "Cassy McCoy" and "Northern" would give you more tailored search results.  Boolean searching can get more advanced than this, but I will only show my students these two methods to get them moving in the right direction.  I find that this will immediately improve the quality of their results without getting too technical!

Before concluding our conversation on effective searching, I will ask students what some issues with Boolean searching they see could be.  Typically at this point, students will be Googling away at themselves, so they will have probably already run into a few of them, but here are some things that really must be addressed before turning them loose:

  • If you put something in quotes, your results will match that EXACTLY.  This means if you spell something wrong, that will be bad for your results.  In this case, if it still pulls up results, you'll know that you're taking information from a source that can't spell accurately (problem!!!).  If it doesn't pull up results, you might move on, not thinking that there is anything there.  Correct spelling is absolutely key.
  • Since terms are so specific, you really have to think about what kinds of results variances on terms will get.  For example, most campus publications would call my former college "Northern Illinois University," while most students called it simply "NIU."  If someone was searching for more official websites, it would probably be wise to search for the first term, but if they were looking for more personal information, NIU would make more sense.  This translates to research searches, as students need to think about WHO is using WHICH terms in their materials.  My example in the handout for "Death Penalty" vs. "Capital Punishment" highlights the average person's voice vs. a scholar or professional's voice.  Likewise, searching "high school" or "secondary school" could make a huge difference in the quality of searches you get, since in most professional work it's referred to as "secondary school."  When deciding what to search, students need to consider what kind of people are using the words they are searching for in order to get at evaluating the credibility of those people.  Whenever possible, formal search terms make more sense for a research paper.

Before moving on to the actual "search" part of class, I will ask students to generate lists of terms associated with their research topics.  This will help them remain focused on research, prevent getting tunnel-vision while searching for one or two things, and give them a solid list to "mix and match" with Boolean searching to narrow their terms.  Actively creating this list is a great scaffolding tool to something that advanced researchers are probably already doing in their brains when searching.

Want to give your students more resources to become a web-searching ninja?  I'm madly in love with this Power Searching with Google tutorial (which is pretty much guaranteed to teach even the most advanced searching at least ONE new thing) as well.  For students that I see applying the Boolean searching and gushing about how fabulous it is, I usually route them to this course to learn even more about being efficient web participants.


58 minutes

During the  remainder of the class period, students will be directed to use the Preliminary Research Directions handout and at least one of the three databases, Gale, First Search, or WorldBook, to find helpful articles related to their topics and clip them into their Evernote shared notebooks.  Students MAY NOT go onto other websites or Google their topics until they get at least three diverse sources (that are NOT abstracts) from these databases.  They can use one of the databases for all three articles, or they can spread them out.  During the class period, everyone MUST get at least two sources from these databases clipped into their shared Evernote notebook.  For homework, they will have to find and clip a third credible article from these databases.  If students are able to get all three database sources today in class, they will be instructed to use the online library portal (eFollett), Google Books, or another digital book site to find and checkout or save the link of for later use.  

Every student must find and use at least three database articles.  Additionally, they must find and use a credible book source.  All of this material must be clipped (or in the case of an electronic book, linked) into Evernote.  Unless their work lands in their Evernote shared notebook, I cannot see it to grade it.  The time constraint and permanence of today's tasks will help students to remain actively engaged and productive in their searches today, and I will be moving throughout the room to offer help where I see it is needed or to keep students on task.


2 minutes

In the last few minutes of class, I will ask students to make sure that all of their web clippings have gone into their shared notebooks.  Sometimes they forget to select their research notebook rather than their default notebook, which slows communication.  Then, I will remind students to come to class with at least 3 sources clipped into their Evernote notebook from the databases and review Chapters 2 & 3 of Of Mice and Men for our quiz next time (that was postponed this class period).  We pursue both literature work and research work simultaneously so that we get some variety in our 90-minute periods, but it's imperative for students to keep up on their homework to make these class days productive.

Next Steps

Between this class period and next class period, I will go through my emails and join each student's Evernote notebook.  At this time, their notebooks will appear in my main "Joined Notebooks" subsection, and I will check to make sure each student completed the classwork for today and properly clipped their articles.  It will be important for me to check this process early into the research activity, as small mistakes now will make huge ripples later.  This process is not a difficult one, but it is quite new.  I will use emails and my "extra help" office hours to help any struggling students get on the correct track before our next class period.