Monday, July 24, 2017

Stretching Out of Students' Minds with the Google A Week Contest

     A couple of years ago, I attended a Google Summit in Conway, Arkansas with a group of teachers from my school.  We left with a passel of ideas about how we could infuse our curriculum with Google Apps for Education.  The two hour drive home featured a series of conversations casting a vision for what our school could be like if we implemented Google tools at Lakeside.  Looking back on the conference, it was an event which has profoundly shaped how instruction is delivered at my school.

     One of the concepts I learned about at the Google Summit was the Google A Day contest.  In its original form, I would selected one of the questions from the Google A Day and use it for the Google A Week contest on my campus.  The Google Question of the Week has evolved to focus on current events and curricular topics.  It has become a popular addition to the daily announcement broadcast.  Over time, the Google Question of the Week has become a staple of the library program.

How it works

     Each Monday, a new question is posted on the daily school wide video broadcast as well as on posters throughout the school halls.  Students have until Friday at the end of the school day to turn in their name, the correct answer, and the website where the answer came from on a slip of paper.

      On Fridays, right before I leave for the day, I sift the answers and pile up the correct ones.  Then one correct answer is selected at random as the Google a Week winner.  Sometimes I will also enlist the help of a library patron who is present in the last period of the day to select the winner.  The winner is announced on next week's campus wide video broadcast.  Each week's winner is also entered in the Google A Week Championships (or G.A.W. CHA)  which is held in the Spring each year.  To read more about this event, check out this blog post about it.

      Frequently the questions are related to current events, topics students are studying in class or an obscure story I heard on public radio during my morning commute.  I will often hear from students when they see the question-"we just talked about that in class the other day!"  It ends up being a research opportunity even if they think they remember the answer since they are required to locate a web based source for their information.  It also provides another opportunity for teachers and students to discuss what they are learning.  This is also an easy way to document how we are supporting the school's instructional program as a library media specialist.

     Usually I will make adjustments from the original question to make it "unGoogleable".  For example, I located the question: What was America's best selling book in 2016?  To make this question "unGoogleable", I refocused the question to become: who was the main character of America's bestselling book in 2016?

     By making this change, the question also became more difficult because students had to look into both fiction and nonfiction bestseller lists since each type of books could have characters.  They also had to conduct deeper inquiry to determine who the main character of that work was.

     Adjusting questions this way reinforces the research skills I want to cultivate in my students.  Through the process of locating the answer, students are building reading stamina.  Students sometimes have to look at multiple websites and go beyond just reading the "abstract" on their initial search.  By doing this, they are building reading and research stamina that will help them to engage in more complex texts.

     Instead of just typing in the question and locating the answer, I encourage the students to "cut the question like a steak."  What I mean by this is to cut off the "bones and fat" (the unnecessary words) which develops their skills at identifying keywords to narrow their search and further limits their search results.  My goal is that my students will be so familiar and comfortable with "cutting the question like a steak" that they will transfer this skills to attack the research questions which are posed in their classes in this manner.

The Future of Google a Week

      In the future, I would like to grow the Google A Week program to include more faculty participation.  Historically we have a few teachers and staff members enter the weekly contest.  I think it would encourage more students to participate if they felt like they were competing against their teachers!

     Another way I would like to grow the program is to further integrate it with database use.  Not only would it give students more experience using the databases in the contest, but I also think this would go a long way to reinforcing the use of databases as students' "go to" research resource for projects in their classes.  It might require a bit more work to develop questions that could only be answered using our state funded databases, but the long term impact might make it work it.

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