Digital Literacy

Drowning in Search Results

“You can find anything on Google!”, exclaimed my small group of fifth graders assigned to researching for an upcoming Science project. As we embarked on research, it was evident that the fact that students can find anything on Google resulted in students not finding anything at all.

Students were definitely wallowing in “Data Smog”, a term coined by David Shenk. Caught in a vicious cycle of searching, students quickly became confused and overwhelmed. Google offered too many results, many of which were difficult for an elementary student to comprehend.

With information so readily available, research has become increasingly complex. Since research skills are vital to academic success, fostering them at an early age is essential.

Early elementary students can benefit from researching definitions or images. Keep it simple by offering one online visual dictionary for use. Introduce the research process by establishing the connection between finding definitions and using a dictionary for reference.

Search terms

A good starting point for elementary students is familiarizing them with Boolean search terms. Properly utilizing search terms will allow students more focused search results. can guide your students through the key points Boolean searching.

Guide to Boolean Searching

Student Friendly Search Engines

Releasing students on Google produces search results that often exceed elementary reading levels. Age appropriate search engines are essential. 

InstaGrok-Grades 1 and up. An amazing search engine that presents information in a visual format. With a simple slide of a scale, the difficulty level of search results can easily be modified. Add in quizzes and a glossary, and InstaGrok becomes the ideal search engine for students.

Sweetsearch4me– Appropriate for Grades 1-4

Sweetsearch-Grades 3 and up

Both Sweetsearch search engines have educator reviewed material.

Refseek-Grades 4 and up.  RefSeek brings up academic reference materials.

Quintura Kids- Grades 1 and up. Safe search for students.

Research need not be so daunting if it is focused and organized. Assisting students in matching purposes with outcomes, and offering simple tools to refine the process will ensure an efficient and effective research experience.


Video Learning With a Boy and His Robot


From mitosis to semicolons, explanations can be tricky for even the most veteran educator; especially if you are introducing a concept in an early grade. There are plenty of sites that can bring video learning into the classroom to assist educators with introducing topics, or simply providing students another way of processing information.  One of my favorites sites is BrainPOP.  Each video is led by Tim and Moby, an odd duo consisting of a boy and his robot.  Tim and Moby have a unique flair for delivering information to students in both a simple and engaging way.

Created by an immunologist and pediatrician, Avraham Kadar, M.D., Brain pop was initially used to explain difficult concepts to young patients. Currently, BrainPOP is used by educators as an effective 21st century tool to enhance curriculum content.In addition to offering animated videos relating to all content areas, BrainPOP is Common Core aligned, offers an ELL portal for English language learners, and Brain POP jr. for k-3 students.

With capabilities that reach far beyond an extensive video library, BrainPOP boasts an online educational setting that bolsters student achievement and supports professional development. “My BrainPOP” allow teachers progress monitoring, and individualized assessment creation.  Students can access games, quizzes, and other standards aligned activities. BrainPOP supports multiple learning styles and digital learning by delivering content using a wide variety of media types Completely compatible with most classroom devices, BrainPOP is an ideal integration of technology into the classroom.Most importantly, after just a few uses, Tim and Moby will surely become classroom favorites.

A Start-up Guide to Rss Feeds in the Classroom



We can all agree that among all the reading strategies educators use to improve reading skills, simply fostering a love for reading is one of our most important efforts. In order for students to be good readers, they must read and read a lot.

How do we get students to read?

Not unlike adults, students enjoy reading content that they have interest in.

Cultivating a love for reading begins with providing relevant and engaging reading material in which students can connect with. The web and its content can provide just that-material that is both current and meaningful.

But wading through masses of  information proves to be a difficult task, and often results in data overload. Teaching students how to use a digital tool such as an RSS feed can streamline and simplfy web content while encouraging active personal reading.

Admittingly, I was slow to begin utilizing RSS Feeds until I started to lose track of what I wanted to read and where it came from. It was compareable to marking magazine articles for later reading and becoming overwhelmed when the stacks started to accumulate. I was constantly asking myself where I had read that useful piece of information and how I was going to find it again. By using RSS Feeds along with a feed collector, I was able to have content delivered to me rather than constantly searching for content.

What is an RSS Feed?

RSS stand for Rich Site Summary or Real Simple Syndication. So, what exactly does that mean?

Weblogs and other sites create a code in a language called XML.  Commonly referred to as a “feed”, this code makes it possbible for readers to subscribe to the content created on specific sites, therefore diminshing the need to visit multiple sites to keep up with information.  In other words, feed collectors display currents posts from weblogs and websites that you have subscribed to and alerts you of new content.

For instance, as an instructional technology coach, I am constantly searching for information relating to ed tech.  Numerous sites  disperse interesting information on a regular basis and rather than clicking through each site,  I use an aggregator such as which puts all that information into one neat package. With this type of software called an aggregator or feed collector, content that I subscribe to is refreshed every hour and stored for my reading pleasure. My aggregator allows me to read the content, share it, store it for later, or delete it as I deem necessary.

What about those sites that you subscribe to that delivers news and information via email? Your aggregator can collect feeds from these sites and ultimately provide you with ad free, spam free, and virus free content that is cued up for you to read at your convenience.

How can we use an RSS Feed in the classroom?

  • If your students are blogging, your aggregator can collect their posts using their RSS Feeds. Student work can be read, organized, and even shared with others.
  • Allow your students to set up their own account using a news aggregator such as Topic specific research becomes easier as students can collect information and organize it in one location.
  • Set up a account with your students to promote active personal reading. Encourage them to subscribe to feeds on topics that interest them and share information with you and their peers.
  • For teachers: Subscribing to various feeds is an ideal way to stay current on topics relating to teaching and learning.

RSS Feeds resource list:

Educators’ Guide to RSS and Google Reader Replacements by Sue Waters

Blogging and RSS — The “What’s It?” and “How To” of Powerful New Web Tools for Educators 
by Will Richardson, Supervisor of Instructional Technology, Hunterdon Central Regional High School

WebTools4u2use– A Wiki with useful information on how to get started with RSS Feeds and feed collectors.

Web-Based Aggregators:

As the school year comes to an end, I highly recommend adopting  RSS Feeds as a summer project.  Not only a powerful tool to foster active reading in your students, feeds can also bring useful content to educators and serve as a solid professional development tool.

How are you using RSS Feeds in the fields of teaching and learning?







A New Skill Set in an Informational Age

A family disagreement about a trivial fact resulted in my three year old son suggesting that we just “Google it”.

With information so easily accessible it is easy to experience “Data Smog”, a term coined by David Shenk. “Data smog” refers to mass amounts of information becoming an obstacle rather than a benefit. As we are inundated with information, it is crucial to maneuver through it effectively and efficiently.

Students are wallowing in “Data Smog”. Constantly changing sources of information coupled with large amounts of information has created the need for a new skill set to succeed in our informational age. The National Forum on Information Literacy refers to this skill set as,  “the ability to know when there is a need for information, to be able to identify, locate, evaluate, and effectively use that information for the issue or problem at hand”.

Information literacy is not limited to the classroom. Its development empowers individuals to become critical thinkers.

  • Evaluate web sites- Discussion on credible websites is key. A great website to help you implement this in the classroom is Information Forensics.
  • Promote research using a wide variety of sources.
  • As simple as this may seem, emphasize lessons on fact and opinion.
  • Discuss bias and author’s purpose.
  • Kathy Schrock provides the 5 W’s-, a useful handout to guide students through the website evaluation process.
  • Tools for Research