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Who Says Research Can’t Be Fun for Students?

Museums and encyclopedias are excellent resources, but there may be better ways to engage your students.
online research

When it comes to research, are you still directing kids toward your grandmother’s resources— encyclopedias, reference books, and museums? These are excellent sources, but students often don’t find them engaging and don’t get the most out of them.

These six research websites, have been developed with an eye toward attracting and keeping students’ interest, can be helpful alternatives. All of these sites, except BrainPOP, are free, but they do include advertising.

BrainPOP Freemium  BrainPOP is a collection of three 5-minute animated movies, learning games, quizzes, and interactive activities for grades 3–8 addressing a wide variety of topics such as math, science, social studies, health, art, and technology. Two quirky moderators, colorful graphics, and a clean uncluttered interface help keep students engaged in these easy-to-understand discussions.

They can search by subject matter, video topic, Common Core or state standard, or simply browse a list of videos. Selection can be either a themebased video or a game (called GameUp) —whichever is better suited to their learning style. Another option is to take a quiz and send results to the teacher.

BrainPop can be purchased as a single-student license or a district-wide offering. Besides BrainPOP, the franchise offers BrainPOP Jr. (for K–2), BrainPop Español, BrainPop Français, BrainPop ESL, and other specialized platforms.

History Channel Famous Speeches  The History Channel includes a large collection of famous historic speeches in video and audio, including dropping the atomic bomb, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Jackie Robinson on racial taunts, and the 9/11 attacks. This is a great primary source for students in third grade and up who are researching almost any topic, but especially history.

Student will hear original phrasing, emphasis, and often reactions to dramatic events that—without recordings—would be simply words on paper, devoid of passion, emotion, and motivation.

How Stuff Works How Stuff Works is an award-winning source of unbiased, reliable, accessible explanations about how the world actually works. The site covers topics such as animals, culture, automobiles, politics, money, science, and entertainment. It uses a wide variety of media (photos, diagrams, videos, animations, articles, and podcasts) to explain complex concepts, for example, magnetism, genes, and thermal imaging.

Students 12 and older (and youngers with supervision) find thorough discussions on research topics with add-on articles that enable them to dig deeper. For those looking for more rigor, there are quizzes that evaluate knowledge and challenge learning, such as “The Hardest Words to Spell Quiz” and “Who Said That?”

Infoplease  Infoplease provides authoritative answers to questions using statistics, facts, and historical records culled from a broad overview of research materials, including atlases, encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs, thesauri, the periodic table, a conversion tool, the popular “News and Events Year-by-Year,” and the oft quoted “This Day in History.”

Students in middle school and up (or precocious elementary students) can find easy-to-understand facts for a state report or tips on how to write a persuasive essay. Students ages 9–13 may prefer Fact Monster, which is geared toward younger students.

NOVA Videos NOVA videos (from the PBS program) offer high-quality, well-researched videos on a variety of topics of interest to older students, including ancient civilizations, body and brain, evolution, physics, math, planet Earth, space, tech and engineering, and more.

Many topics include teacher resources, such as lesson plans, assessments, teacher videos, and webinars. Other resources include articles, slideshows, audio, quizzes, more than 400 video shorts, and more.

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K–18 technology for 30 years. You can follow her on Twitter @AskaTechTeacher

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