Thursday, November 17, 2011

Web Quests

The year was 2001, and I was in the beginning stages of my Master's thesis on professional development in technology integration.  A undergrad classmate of mine was a few years ahead of me on the curve and was part of a groundbreaking team of educators in Maine, working with the state department of education on a 1:1 laptop program, where (I believe) every 8th grader in Maine would get a laptop to use.  Good stuff!

My friend and I talked for a couple hours one Sunday afternoon as I picked his brain on any and every topic I could dream up.  Among other things, that conversation got me excited to try out something called Web Quests. Excited doesn't quite sum it up well.  Giddy?  I think that's better.

Never heard of a Web Quest?  They were originally created at San Diego State University as an all-inclusive, multi-disciplinary learning unit using the Internet as the main source of information.  Students follow a series of links to answer questions which bring about some great learning.  You can read more at  

I don't know how many Web Quests I've done with my students over the years.  My original giddiness gave way to being overwhelmed.  When another teacher develops a unit, he or she is interested in his or her learning goals.  So, I found it difficult to find a Web Quest that would work with what I wanted to do.  So, I made my own.  That worked wonders till my Geocities site decided that I had overused my hits and wouldn't allow access for an hour. Of course, an hour later we wouldn't be in the computer lab and I wouldn't have those kids again till the next day.  It wasn't long till I dropped the idea of Web Quests and looked to the next big thing. 

Enter 2011. New school.  New subject matter. New curriculum.  I start every Social Studies unit by asking myself how I can use technology to help me.  Our current chapter is on the American colonies.  I found a nice Web Quest about the Plymouth Colony and got that old excitement back.  Plymouth... Thanksgiving... Web Quests!  Yes!  A new wrinkle came unexpectedly... Our iPads became ready to roll for this week.  Sweet!  

I dedicated this entire week to this Web Quest on Plymouth. (I won't post the address here, but if you're dying to know, feel free to ask.) The kids have been diligently working on answering questions regarding the journey across the sea and the buildings in the colony and the climate of Massachusetts.  They wrap it up tomorrow by writing letters to their family and friends back in England telling them about life in the New World.  It's pretty good, but...
  • The links don't all work.  I caught one major link glitch before we went live with this.  The new site I found has videos (a virtual tour of Plymouth Colony).  However, those videos don't play on the iPads. We had to nix three other questions today because the links didn't work and I didn't know where to find a new site on the fly to help with the questions.  (It doesn't help to have multiple 5th graders telling me simultaneously that they can't find the chicken roasting on the fire, which led me to singing "Chickens roasting on an open fire."  We started listening to Christmas music at home early this year.)
  • The quest asks a LOT of questions.  Among other things, they have students describing 5 different buildings in detail and writing 5 separate letters home.  I was able to tweak a lot of it.  They only had to describe 3 buildings and write one letter for me.  I also got rid of a handful of questions.  In the end, with my chopping, it wound up being a 3 page worksheet they had to answer.
  • Because of these changes, they had to go back and forth between multiple web sites and a worksheet, and they got confused.  They wasted a lot of time in this confusion.
I liked the concept of seeing the pictures, watching the videos, and doing some higher level thinking.  I just got the realization around Wednesday that what they were doing wasn't much different than looking in a textbook to find answers to questions.  Granted, my other 43 students think they are lucky since they got to play with iPads all week. Still I am left to wonder if I am using the technology to do new things in new ways.

In the end I think the Web Quest was a good learning tool, and I may use it again next year.  This is a serious (and not rhetorical) question.  Is it ethical to take the Web Quest in question, paste it into my classroom site, tweak it to fit my needs, and cite them as the original authors?  

Have you ever used a Web Quest?  What did you like?  What didn't you like?  Will you use one again? 

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