It's time to wash the Play-dough and clay from our hands, and get back to the keyboards for a super-cool research tool that I think you'll fall in love with: Instagrok.
Here's an introductory video from Instagrok's creator (Kirill Kireyev, PhD):
So...search engine, note-taking tool, student-friendly, graphic...looks like a handy option for research projects, right? I haven't tried it with students yet, but I'm exploring it on my own this summer. So far, I REALLY like it!
I think that Instagrok will help with the question-formulating phase of the research process. Often, when we start a project, students don't know enough to know which questions to ask. This search engine gives a graphic overview of the topic, with the ability to click and zoom in on a particular aspect. You can see concepts, definitions, and connections.
Shown above are the results I received when I searched the term "Arctic." Last year, I worked on a research project with a teacher who allowed students to research any topic related to the Arctic. With Instagrok, students could have looked at this graphic and clicked on the sub-topic that interested them. Or, they could have read the key facts or watched a few of the videos (on the right side of the screen), to help them decide what they wanted to learn more about. Could you do this with a list of search results from Google. Not hardly!
I looked through the websites listed on the right side, and found them to be useful and authoritative: National Wildlife Federation, PBS, National Geographic, NASA. The type of sites we want our students to use in their research. The videos were from sources like Planet Earth, NASA, and 60 Minutes.
If you click on the word "more" at the top of the Images tab, you get a table showing each image next to its source, making citation easier! The graphics are not just photos, but infographics like maps and charts.
The slider bar at the top of the screen allows you to adjust the difficulty level, great for differentiation. Your gifted students and your struggling students could use the same tool and get results appropriate for their abilities!
When students create an account, they can "pin" items to their research journal and type notes about what they pinned. Electronic note-taking! By establishing a teacher account and having your students enter a class code, you gain visibility of their research journals. So you can check their progress at any time.
This is one of my favorite finds of the summer. I really want to incorporate this tool into our research projects for next year! I'm having fun playing with it, when I don't even have a real project to work on! Check it out, add it to your scrapbook, and tell us how you could use Instagrok with YOUR students!