12th Grade ELA : Unit #11 - Making Discoveries: Research-Based Writing : Lesson #5

Why Not Wikipedia?: Using Databases for Research

Objective: SWBAT research using databases.
Standards: RI.11-12.5 W.11-12.1
Subject(s): English / Language Arts
60 minutes
1 Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Context and Time Frame - 0 minutes

Today's lesson is # 5 in the Senior Project Research unit and follows the lesson on evaluating internet sites. 

Students often choose to look to Wikipedia as a source of information, but Wikipedia has some inherent problems students need to know about. To help students understand this and to show them how to use Wikipedia effectively, I turn to a popular YA author, Cory Doctorow. Wikipedia by Cory Doctorow is an excerpt from Homeland, the sequel to Big Brother.

Rather than banning students from using Wikipedia completely, I show them how to use it responsibly. 

In today's lesson, students 

  • Receive advice from Cory Doctorow about how to use Wikipedia,
  • Learn about an abuse of Wikipedia in our state,
  • Learn the benefits of using databases,
  • Learn the basic search using the EbscoHost database,
  • Research their topics using, which includes Ebscohost. 
2 What are Databases and Why Should Students Use them Instead of Wikipedia? - 20 minutes

We begin the lesson by discussing the questionable reliability of Wikipedia, the open-source encyclopedia that anyone can edit. 

First, I share a story about Tom Luna, our state superintendent of public instruction with students: 

A few years ago Melissa McGrath, Tom Luna's spokesperson was in an editing war with Wikipedia. This was reported in The Daily Kos and in other media outlets. McGrath had been editing Luna's Wikipedia entry in a biases way. 

Then I show students the original entry. Wikipedia asked McGrath to cease the editing, but she did not. Luna's page was edited over 60 times. Therein lies the problem w/ Wikipedia: Anyone can edit. This makes the information on the site unreliable.

The images show Luna's current Wikipedia entry: Tom Luna Wikipedia page and Tom Luna Wikipedia page (2)

Next, I share Cory Doctorow's advice about using Wikipedia: Copy of Wikipedia by Cory Doctorow. I encourage students to get ideas from Wikipedia, including search terms and possible outside sources. Then I tell them how I first found TED talks via Wikipedia when I was researching the Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch. 

Next, we look at the list of reasons for using databases: Why Use a Database. This helps students understand the difference between academic and casual research. 

Let's Get Political; Those with No Ethos Peddle Their Political Opinions about Our Profession
Online Resources

I originally titled this reflection "Politicians Who Suck the Joy Out of Teaching and Seek to Rewrite History." I was advised by my BL coach that my point does seem to get a wee politicized--I might suggest toning it down. To that I say, "I intend to get political, and I stand behind my comments." Here's my original reflection: 

Tom Luna is not a teacher. He has never taught. He has no degree in education. His degree is from an online program. Luna is a politician in the mold of Michelle Rhee and others whose brand of politics I loathe. Luna pushed Draconian education reform through the Idaho legislature and teachers in Idaho, with the help of the NEA, fought to overturn the legislation. As a consequence, Luna will not be running for another term as the state superintendent of public instruction. 

I'm thrilled to have had the opportunity to use Melissa McGrath's rewrite of Luna's biography on Wikipedia as an example that is relevant to students. Doing so provided important information about the single individual who is responsible for wasting taxpayer money paying for every junior in the state to take the SAT, although all state universities require the ACT. 

Tom Luna is a politician who believes parents should have the primary responsibility for evaluating teachers in our state, although most lack specific expertise about education. Luna believes in VAM's, which have consistently been shown to have no correlation to student learning and are an ineffective and a false way of evaluating teachers. 

When I reflect on what makes teaching more challenging now than ever, it's people like Tom Luna who pop into my mind. His policies have resulted in a migration of teachers from the state, and his legacy is that we are dead last in per pupil expenditures. 

As language arts teachers, it's our job to help make students vigilant consumers of online information; by doing this we can help protect our profession from the Tom Lunas in our midst. 

The comments I make are my own and not those of BL or its associates. I speak from my professional experience. If I don't comment, I give tacit consent for "education reforms" that I believe are antithetical to excellent teaching and downright harmful to students. Let's get political. Let's do it now. Others do and they have no ethos on which to base their opinions. That's a point on which I'll stand and on which I'll encourage students to implement the CRAAP test. 

3 Teacher-Led Tutorial on the Ebscohost Database - 15 minutes

Next, I introduce students to Ebscohost by presenting a short tutorial on the state website, Lili. I have students use Lili because it's easily accessible to students from home. What follows is an abbreviated version of the tutorial I give in my class. During class time, I take time for students to play around with the site so that they feel comfortable using it. Ebscohost Tutorial.mp4

I've included a step-by-step list of the process I discuss in the tutorial: Database Research Steps.


4 Practicing the Process: Students Use Databases to Research Topics Independently - 40 minutes

It's important to give students an opportunity to research while the information about how to use databases is fresh on their minds. With the laptop cart at our disposal, we have a casual research atmosphere that allows me to circulate among students and help them with their searches. The three students on the couch in my room quickly discovered the ease of using databases and give Three Cheers for Databases.