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ISTE NETS*S Part 3: Research and Information Fluency

This is my third article in a series of six about ISTE’s NETS*S (National Educational Technology Standards for Students).  The third standard is “Research and Information Fluency.”

Research and Information Fluency

Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information. Students:

  1. plan strategies to guide inquiry.
  2. locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media.
  3. evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks.
  4. process data and report results.

 (excerpted from

World Book EncyclopediasOnce upon a time, writing a report meant finding an encyclopedia article about the topic and then copying it, word for word, onto lined paper by hand.  No one told us not to do this, and no one ever really busted us for it.  Teachers, being busy folks (I am one, so I can vouch for my people), didn’t often have the time or resources to nail the plagiaristic offenders.  I was one, and I never got “caught,” so I speak from experience.

I don’t really remember anyone ever telling me that it was wrong to carry out this practice when I was in elementary or middle school, and it was only ever mentioned during big term papers in high school.  Fortunately, this has changed today.  In fact, while it’s easier to steal ideas from others (between the wealth of information available in multiple types of sources and the ease of access we have to most of them via the Internet), it’s also a lot easier to catch the cheaters in the act.

With my students, beginning with my youngest, but especially starting in third grade, I make sure they understand that ideas don’t belong to them unless they truly were their own original creations.  I tell them that, unless they were born knowing something, or they thought of it without anyone ever telling them (verbally, in print, or on screen), the information can’t be used unless its source is cited.  It doesn’t take them long to realize that almost everything they do needs a works cited section.

And it’s not enough to tell them that they have to cite sources, or even to give them materials to show them how.  I’m very fortunate that I teach such a span of grade levels.  I get to start young with them.  My third graders learn how to cite books and websites, beginning with Wikipedia.  I take them through the process for some small research-based projects we do in Word and Excel.  In fourth and fifth grades, they continue to cite sources, and we begin to include print and CD-ROM encyclopedias.  By fifth grade, the classroom teachers also have them writing research papers, so they get even more practice.  Then in each year of middle school, my students create a works cited for a research project they’ll never do, on a topic of their choosing.  They have to find and cite many different types of resources, including periodicals and videos, among others.  This repetition of skills helps solidify in their minds that this is a required part of any project requiring research.

Sometimes people are surprised when I tell them that my third graders are doing research in this way.  But, you know, third graders have always done research.  We just didn’t always classify it that way in our minds.  At my school, third grade students have done animal reports since the dawn of time.  They read books and encyclopedias and websites about their animals.  That’s called research.  They decide which facts to include, and they put these details into their own words as much as possible.  Whether it’s a fun animal-themed wire hanger mobile or a flashy PowerPoint, what’s happening at the front end of the process is the same.

Now, however, that same Internet that offers a treasure trove of information at our fingertips also needs to be approached with a bit of skepticism.  Advances in technology have made it possible for anyone to publish on the Internet.  Yay!  Oh, wait.  Advances in technology have made it possible for ANYONE to publish on the Internet.  (Yes, I know I repeated myself, but you have to do the voices to really appreciate that.)  No matter what their agenda or bias, everyone on the planet with access to an Internet connection can broadcast whatever they want.  That’s what makes sites like Wikipedia amazing.  No more waiting for a new edition of the encyclopedia to arrive.  It’s arriving every minute.  But you and I and that weird guy down the street who shoots BBs at squirrels all have equal footing on the publishing stage.  We’re all authors.  (Let’s pause for a moment to pat ourselves on the back.)

pen on marked-up essay

So how will we get our children to filter all that stuff out?  We used to just tell kids to avoid the weird guy down the street.  Now we have to teach them to think for themselves in evaluating all that information they can read online.  Children believe what we tell them.  And most of them believe that if it’s on the Internet, it must be true.  I have a colleague who likes to share the story of a research paper she read in which the subject, a general from our nation’s past, died early on in the paper, only to command his troops to victory in a battle that took place more than two decades after his earlier-reported demise.  That was SOME general.

I have an activity I like to do with students.  The resources are not my own, but the worksheet I have the kids fill in is something I made for them to use in evaluating websites.  I don’t want to spoil the ending for you, but treat each of the four websites linked below with a healthy dose of salt.  Please feel free to use this with your own students.  I am nothing if not an evangelist for the pursuit of truth and fairness in academia, despite the crimes of plagiarism long since expunged from my juvenile record.

This is the site I have my students visit:

Here’s the worksheet I have them use:

Each student is assigned to evaluate one of the four websites, but you could use it how ever you like.

I’d really like to hear how other educators are beefing up the research and information fluency where they work.  Please comment and, if possible, share resources!

Diane Main is a Google Certified teacher who teaches technology integration in San Jose, California. Visit her blog at

Image of encyclopedias from Flickr user Rishabh Mishra (possible248), some rights reserved, Creative Commons.

Image of editing a paper from Flickr user Nic ‘s events, some rights reserved, Creative Commons.

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