My First WebQuest in Ages!
Part of how I get to spend my time these days is to create new learning activities. Recently I’ve been able to dip back into my love of Robert Frost and poetry in general. My long-standing interest in equality for Black Americans was nudged by Black History Month in the US. When I began creating WebQuests, some of my first ones were inspired by this important commemoration. I decided to take a look at what was available on the Web – my starting place is to get excited by the resources I find. What I found were some outstanding short videos on important issues, and, fortunately, interactive maps on each of the topics. This allowed for the creation of the Past IS Present WebQuest.
The Past IS Present WebQuest
After creatively searching the Web, I came up with the following six issues that touched on enough to form a fairly complete experience for students. The issues are:
- Redlining (long-term housing discrimination)
- Racial Violence (lynching and hate groups)
- Confederate Symbols
- Gerrymandering (and voter suppression)
- Economic Disadvantage
- Mass Incarceration
Using my usual WebQuest approach, I begin with one video engage students and help create a little cognitive dissonance. That, “Huh?” experience that slightly disrupts their schema is what’s needed to build to the new “Ah-Ha!” insight and deeper understanding. This is followed by floating some essential questions and encouraging students to Mindmap their current knowledge. To make sure everyone’s got a solid base of shared understanding, years back I added the “Background for Everyone” phase to Bernie Dodge’s original template. This is what I’ve come to call a Knowledge Hunt and isn’t impressive by itself because it can descend into a copy/paste experience for students. Never-the-less, I have made this Background activity freely available, perhaps to entice engaging in the next steps.
Video Introductions and Issue-based Experts
Once all students have a shared background and a Mindmap that illustrates the current schema of their knowledge, the real fun begins. Using Google slides, one short and compelling video for each of the six issues is given to individual (or pairs) of students in a group. After the video, students are given a few additional links and prompted to record new information in a basic 5Ws & H grid. Armed with this, amazingly researchers, non-profits and concerned citizens have posted really engaging interactive maps that allow students to find local instances of the issue. This helps bring home the point – Black history and its injustices in the US are not only distant in time, but often occurring today and often in our own communities. Detailed step-by-step instructions are provided for each map so students can encounter the most compelling data and insights. To give shape to these insights, learners are guided with scaffolds to shape their opinions into a solid thesis statement or argument.
The Group Process and Transformation of Information into Understanding
Those who know me are aware that a small percentage of what are referred to as WebQuests actually fit the bill. Previous research reviewing almost 2,000 self-named WebQuests revealed that only about 16% actually met the main criteria. To put it at its most simple: it’s impossible for students to copy and paste their way to completing a WebQuest. Because the questions are open-ended and the tasks such that they require problem-solving, the focus is one having students transform the acquired information into a new understanding. That’s right, we found that 84% of what are referred to as WebQuests merely ask students to copy and past what they find on Web sites. Obviously, my new Past IS Present WebQuest goes the full distance with scaffolds to help students transform information meaning. It ends with suggestions for ways that students can contribute their learning to the real world such as:
But Wait… You can do rich learning in a shorter timeframe…
Because I know that many teachers don’t have the time to engage students in a real WebQuest, but want to use some of the Web’s rich media for more real and relevant learning, I’ve packaged up just the Introductory Videos on the Six Issues in a Awareness and Mindmapping activity. This way, people can get exposure to the issues and get students thinking. This is a great way to move beyond knowledge acquisition and, perhaps eventually, into a full WebQuest. With all the interest in PBL (Problem-based Learning) again these days, a WebQuest is a handy way to get the most from teacher time and student learning.
A Note on Teachers Pay Teachers. I’ve decided to spend the year uploading activities to TpT after decades of putting work online for free. In some ways I’m both comfortable and uncomfortable with charging for learning activities. Given that I still provide lots for free and have been developing quite detailed and scaffolded activities for TpT, I’m curious to see how things are received.