What happens in your classroom when you ask a question for which no one has an immediate answer? If your classroom is anything like mine have been, students go immediately to their iPhones and search key words on Google or Yahoo. We are all aware that today’s students know perfectly well how to search for information on the Internet. For most students, the problem is not using technology to find information, it is sorting through the overwhelming amount of information that using technology provides. Here is where artifacts help create the “college and work-ready graduate” who can “use technology and digital media strategically and capably.”
Artifacts provide a starting point and a guide for digital research. Our first question is always, “What is this?” The immediate analysis that follows describes the object fully and completely. This information provides the basis for the key words used in all search engines. A youthful description of Native American moccasins might read, “leather, beaded, footwear.” Enter those words into an “image” search and a wide array of beaded shoes appears. Students then must move further down the list of words used to describe our moccasins. Enter the word, “Indian,” and the images produce an unlimited number of beautiful slippers and shoes from India. Students might then go back to the descriptive words and enter, “Native American.” When that occurs, the search engine produces images that are more like our object under consideration, and an answer to our question emerges.
Let’s review the process. We ask the question. Students analyze the object, describe the item fully and completely, and use the description as the source of key words for an Internet search. Based on the results of this process, they refine the search using more specific words from the description until they come to a reasonable conclusion based on the visual evidence they have found. This simple method takes students through the same process as a research scientist, historian, engineer, mathematician, or economist would utilize to answer their questions. Asking “What is this?” allows students to begin with broader descriptions and definitions and gradually narrow their searches using more specific terms, eliminating those descriptions and definitions that prove to be inconclusive or inaccurate along the way. As they narrow their searches based on their returns, they are using evidence to refine their research. Questions drive the research. Results refine the parameters. Evidence-based solutions to the problem are the end result. Fortunately for all of us, this method works at all levels of inquiry.
Objects are grade-level neutral. Questions about the object add sophistication, depth, and complexity to the inquiry. For students whose reading, writing, and communications skills are not yet well-developed, “What is this?” may be the only question asked. For students with greater background knowledge, or more life experience, “Why is it important?” or “Who might have used this?” or “How was this made?” or “What elements comprise its structure?”…. can follow. These guided essential questions lead to further inquiry, but the discovery process remains the same. Refinement of the answer comes from evidence that matches the initial analysis of the object at hand. The refinement process continues along the same path until the question driving the research is answered. Artifacts provide the starting point and the key terms and descriptions that drive effective Internet research.
Artifacts teach strategic use of technology.