Sage Knows Her reSearch!

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SWBAT research a problem using internet search strategies, before beginning to design a solution.

Big Idea

How do engineers research to help them develop their ideas? What strategies are necessary to do internet research? Students learn internet strategies that will assist them in researching a design problem.

Setting Up the Investigation

Note:  This is a lengthy lesson, as it incorporates literacy objectives as well as Science content.  I have broken it into segments and used part of my daily language block in order to integrate instruction across content areas.

Connection to The Next Generation Science Standards

In this investigation, students begin the work that will lead them to explore the Disciplinary Core Idea of Earth and Human Activity -  that human activities in agriculture, industry, and everyday life have had major effects on the land, vegetation, streams, ocean, air, and even outer space.  But individuals and communities are doing things to protect Earth's resources and environments. (5-ESS3-1); the Disciplinary Core Idea of Engineering Design - that possible solutions to a problem are limited by available materials and resources (constraints).  The success of a designed solution is determined by considering the desired features of a solution (criteria). Different proposals for a solution can be compared on the basis of how each one meets the specified criteria for success or how well each takes the constraints into account.  (3-5 ETS1-1); Research on a problem should be carried out before beginning to design a solution.  Testing a solution involves investigating how well it performs under a range of likely conditions.  (3-5 ETS1-2).  At whatever stage, communicating with peers about proposed solutions is an important part of the design process, and shared ideas can lead to improved designs. (3-5 ETS1-2); Tests are often designed to identify failure points or difficulties, which suggest the elements of the design that need to be improved.  (3-5 ETS1-3); Different solutions need to be tested in order to determine which of them best solves the problem, given the criteria and constraints.  (3-5 ETS1-3); and the Crosscutting Concept of Influence of Engineering, Technology, and Science on Society and the Natural World  - People's needs and wants change over time, as do their demands for new and improved technologies (3-5-ETS1-1), and Engineers improve existing technologies or develop new ones to increase their benefits, decrease known risks, and meet societal demands (3-5-ETS1-2).

Please Note:  The Lexile Level for Plaid Pete Engineers A Solution - Lab Scenario Sheet Lesson 7 is 780 (5th Grade Range is 740 - 1010).

The Preparation Time for This Investigation is approximately 15 minutes.

Materials Needed:

One copy for each student of Plaid Pete Engineers A Solution - Lab Scenario Sheet - Lesson 7

One copy for each student of Plaid Pete Engineers A Solution Lab Sheet - Lesson 7

Student copies of Plaid Pete Engineers A Solution - Design Portfolio


Focus & Motivation

20 minutes

Introduce the Scenario Vocabulary

I tell my students, "In our previous scenarios we have focused specifically on our Science Content.  In today's scenario, you will see that there are some words that have been bold- faced and underlined.  These words are words that are commonly used across many subject areas.  It is important that we learn to stretch our academic vocabulary and learn to become "Word Wizards".  In today's learning objective, you will see that we will be working on strategies to help us research ideas to solve our engineering design problem.  Becoming "Word Wizards" will make researching much more effective."

I present the following Tier 2 Vocabulary Words and their definitions that I have posted on a piece of chart paper:

  • voluminous - large in volume; a great amount 
  • reference - a source of information
  • exhausted - completely used up; very tired
  • dissatisfied - not content; unhappy
  • assistance - helping with a job or task; providing resources
  • effortlessly - easy; without effort
  • repertoire - stock of skills; body of items
  • persuade - to influence through reasoning or argument
  • briskly - done in a quick and lively way
  • grueling - extremely tiring and demanding
  • accomplished - completed successfully
  • convince - cause to believe
  • hesitation - pausing before saying or doing something
  • incredulously - not able or willing to believe something
  • determination - resolved to continue; not giving up

I present the words in the same way I have previously presented vocabulary.  I give the word, state the definition, use the sentence in context, and quickly ask a student volunteer to use the word in a sentence.

I pass out the Plaid Pete Engineers A Solution - Lab Scenario Sheet - Lesson 7 and my students get out their highlighters.  I tell them there are 4 reader's theater parts, Plaid Pete, Navjot, a new character who is a girl in Plaid Pete's class named Sage, and a narrator.  We determine who will read the parts and begin.

Class Discussion

After we have finished reading the scenario.  I ask my students to take a few moments so that we can go through the vocabulary, asking: How do these words give us a better understanding of the characters and the situation in the scenario?  Being a Word Wizard means thinking about how words are used to convey meaning.  One word can change the entire sentence!

I steer the discussion so that students remark on how Plaid Pete must have been having a difficult time researching in books, and that it probably wasn't a very good source for his information.  He probably should have chosen a different strategy once he could see that using books wasn't going to be successful.

We compare and contrast the words used in describing Sage and her actions; e.g. briskly, determination, (without) hesitation, and words that describe Plaid Pete and his actions; e.g. incredulously, hesitation and grueling, and I steer the conversation so that students can see how their different level of strategies in research can make them feel successful, or not so successful, and how this is conveyed by the words used in the text.  

This step is important because I want students to build motivation for the task ahead.  Teaching students research skills is a difficult task, and teaching them to persevere in looking for hard to find information is even more so.

Learning Objective & Success Criteria

Note:  Consistent with the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, I am now including a language objective with each lesson.  These objectives were derived from the Washington State ELP Standards Frameworks that are correlated with the CCSS and the NGSS.

I share the learning objective and success criteria:  

Learning Objective:  I can research a problem using internet search strategies before beginning to design a solution.

Language Objective:  I can conduct research and evaluate and communicate findings to answer questions and solve problems.  [ELP.4-5.5]

Success Criteria:  I can collaboratively research with my team, locating 2 appropriate resources and use them to complete the graphic organizer in my Design Portfolio.

After I have shared the learning objectives and success criteria I tell my students to get ready to learn the strategies that Sage spoke about in the scenario - and a few more that will help them achieve their learning objective.

Guided Exploration

25 minutes

Introduce Key Word Strategy

For this section of the lesson, I take my students to the computer lab.  I remind them to bring their Design Portfolios with them.  I ask them to sit around the SMART Board.  I have pulled up a blank page on Word, and have typed in the heading:  Key Words.  I say to them, "You begin an internet search with something called a "search engine."  A search engine is a program that takes "key words" that you have identified and typed in, and searches millions of pages in its database, or pile of records, to find any document that has those words contained within the document.  To begin any search, you have to identify the key words that will be specific enough to give you the information you need." 

I ask my students, "Think about the research we will be doing - looking for ideas to build a better water filter.  What might be some key words that we could type into a search engine to look for information on this topic?"  I call on a few students, and under the heading Key Words, I type their suggestions:  build a water filter; water plants; water filter; drinking water filter; filter design; water filtration; water purifier; and water purification.

Introduce Boolean Operators

I tell my students, "Once you have key words, you can begin your search by simply typing them in the search bar.  I minimize the word document, and demonstrate how to type into the toolbar.  I explain that while there are a number of search engines, we will primarily be using Google.  Some of my students already know how to do this, but I have a number of students that only have access to computers at school and are not familiar with internet search strategies.

I tell my students, "In the scenario, Sage spoke about something called "Boolean Operators."  I have a website that will show us how to use these.  I click on The Boolean Machine by Rockwell Shrock.  This is a great visual for describing how Boolean Operators work.  I go through the diagram describing how each of the operators are used.  

 I ask my students, "What other piece of information might be important to keep in mind as you research?"  I get blank stares.  I am disappointed they aren't thinking on their toes, but then I remember they are beginning researchers.  I ask, "What is it about the constraints of this design project you might need to remember?"  One student finally responds, "Oh it's the materials - we have to use certain materials."  I confirm that yes, it will be important to focus their search on sites that used the allowed materials.  I remind them that this information is located on page 6 of their Design Portfolios.

 I tell them, "You will find as you begin your search that commercial water filters are constructed from many different materials, not just the ones that are listed in your Design Portfolio.  How could you use what you have learned to help you narrow your search so you don't waste time?  I ask enough questions so that one student finally answers, "Use materials names as key words along with the Boolean Operators and other key words."  I ask for an example, and the student states: "drinking water filter and sand."

Introduce Task

I review with my students how to pull up a blank word document, how to save it to their student file that we created earlier this year, and how to minimize the document.  I demonstrate how to copy the URL (explaining that this is the Uniform Resource Locator - or address that will allow them to locate any document on the internet) from a site they have identified, and then how to paste it to the blank word document.  

tell them, "Your job is to use the research strategies you have just learned to locate sites that you believe will give you the best information on how to design a better water filter. Remember, you are looking for design ideas.  You will not have time to sit and read through pages, so you will have to research quickly and efficiently."  I remind my students that they learned some useful skills for skimming and scanning text in a previous lesson.  I also ask, "What text feature might assist you in getting ideas?"  A student responds, "Pictures and diagrams would be a great text feature for this task."   I tell my students that one strategy I use is to place an asterisk, and I show them the key for this, by a source that I feel has a particularly good visual or some great information.  Otherwise, these have a tendency to get lost in the list.

I have placed my students in pairs, within their teams, for this activity, with less skilled readers supported by those with higher skills.  I release my students to their computers to get busy, telling them their job is to locate as many websites as they can in the time allotted, and to paste the URL onto their blank page.  I remind them to save frequently.  This part is important as they will need to access this page when they come back to research, otherwise they will spend useless time typing and retyping URLs.  I am pleased to see that this student is beginning by listing their Key Words.  I loudly praise their wisdom and intelligence!

My students print out their pages, and we return to the classroom for the Instruction segment of the lesson.


25 minutes

Evaluating Web Pages

I pass out Plaid Pete Engineers A Solution Lab Sheet - Lesson 7 to each of my students.  I reserve a copy for myself.  I have adapted this information from a more extensive document produced by the University of Berkeley Library.

Looking at the URL

We look at the first question:  What does the URL tell you?  Working with their partners, I have students look to see if they can find an example of a website that is a personal page.  We then look at the question in the second column, Why is it important to know if the page was written by a specific person? It takes a bit of tugging, but I am able to ask questions and lead my students to understand that the credibility of the information is dependent on the person who is presenting it on that page.  I ask, "If the person is not an expert in their field, and does not have some kind of credential or certification in that area, would a public utility like a water treatment plant use that as a source of research?"  My students agree that this is probably not a good source.  

One student responds that the person could be an engineer.  I then remind them that there are constraints to this design challenge.  I tell my students that when it is a personal page they have an obligation to research the expertise of the person.  I say, "In some cases you may have time to do this.  However, in this case, time is one of your constraints."  I ask that they go through their lists and cross off any personal pages.

I then give the example that when I put in the terms "drinking water filters" and "sand" - I find a website with the following URL:  I highlight the .gov portion of the URL and explain that this is a government site.  I say, "In fact, this is a government agency called the Center for Disease Control.  They are responsible for tracking and limiting the spread of diseases."  I ask my students if this is a credible source for this topic, and we agree that it probably is.  Then I give the example of  I highlight the .blogspot portion of the URL and explain that this is a "blog" or a web page that is run by an individual or a group - typically a discussion or informational site that is dedicated to entries written in chronological order.  I ask my students if this is a credible or likely source for their purpose, and we agree that it probably isn't.

Look at the Domain 

We look at the second question:  What type of domain did the source come from?  We talk about each of the possibilities; government sites, educational sites, commercial sites, and non-profit sites.  I have to describe a bit about what a non-profit site is.  I explain to my students that in some research contexts the domain can be very important.  I give examples like researching about diseases, historical information, and ask students to volunteer other examples.  We discuss each of these and decide in which contexts the domain is an important consideration.  We look at the question in the left hand column:  Which sources might be more reliable for this project:  For this project we agree that the domain is not as important, but that government and educational websites might have more credibility because they do research that doesn't involve selling a product.  This is not something they can come up with on their own, but is an idea I have to lead them to through questioning. Students agree that commercial sites may have good ideas, as they often sell things to the government, but need to be looked at closely.

Look at the Server

Finally, we look at the third question:  Who operates the server from where the document was published?  This one is a bit more difficult to explain.  I also have to pull up a few websites on the toolbar and point out that in many cases the http:// no longer appears at the beginning of the URL.  However, they can look at the information that appears before the first backslash (/).  

I explain that this particular criteria is more about analyzing if the website page is consistent with the entity that is publishing it.  If the page is about drinking water filters, is it published by an entity that has something to do with drinking water filters?  We look at the question in the left hand column:  Is the server, or publisher, of the page that you are proposing to use for research an entity that makes sense?  For this project we agree that the server should be somebody who has something to do with drinking water filters, either a government or non-profit agency that uses them or monitors them, an educational entity that researches them, or a commercial business that builds them.

Teams Evaluate 

I tell my students, "Now that you have some criteria for evaluating websites, I would like you to go through your list and do just that.  Narrow your list down to no more than 4 or 5 websites that will be most likely to give you credible information.  I tell my students to clearly circle their choices, and when all pairs have completed this task, we get ready to return to the Computer Lab to retrieve their documents.  In this Video Clip one team discusses their choices during this process.

Pairs Activity

20 minutes

Return to the Computer Lab

I have made arrangements to return to the computer lab for a short segment later that day. Using the SMART Board, I pull up a document one of the pairs created earlier that day.  I demonstrate how to go to the links they selected, click on the link, and retrieve the page.  I tell them to let me know when they have retrieved the page, and I will give them permission to print.  I don't want them printing out 30 page documents, or those that will be of little use to them.  This is another check-point I can use to make sure they are using appropriate resources.

This process of learning how to navigate between a word document and the internet - going between one screen and another will be extremely important to my students at the end of the year.  They will have to take the Smarter Balanced Assessment that requires them to navigate between screens, and between written and video/audio text.  They need this opportunity to practice these technology skills.  While it would be easier for me to just print the documents out for them - I know they need the practice.  It can be frustrating because there are those students who don't follow directions, who delete the lines of text instead of clicking on them, and who get lost in the process - but these are the ones who need this learning experience the most.

I release pairs to the computers to begin retrieving their documents.  We have a technology support professional to assist us in the computer lab.  This would also be a great time for parent volunteer support, if you have them! 

Reflection & Closure

5 minutes

Rally to Research!

We return to class, and I gather my students for a quick pep talk in our meeting area.

They are quite excited with the treasure they have discovered on the internet, and with their newfound research skills.  I tell them that tomorrow during our Language Block, they will skim and scan these documents with their Research Partner, to complete the research requirement on page 6 of their Design Portfolios.  

As they have done previously, they are to construct bulleted notes in their own words that will assist them in designing a water filter that will solve the design problem, while meeting the requirement and design constraints.  

As I move among my students, I am thrilled to see the diagrams and models that are appearing from the research they have conducted.  They are taking this design challenge seriously.  This is just one student example of the research collected:

My budding engineers are ready to go!