We all did research as K-12 students and pre-service teachers. Much of that involved going to the library, using 3×5 note cards to record the information we gathered and later using some sort of manual typewriter to create an annotated bibliography. I still remember (without any fondness) the amount of time I spent consulting style manuals and handouts to make sure that my notes and bibliographies were formatted correctly.

Research in the 21st century is not the same. Much of the data and resources needed to do current research can be found online in the form of digital archives, audio books, databases and learning communities.

The question is pretty simple. Have we as educators changed the way we teach research documentation skills?

Speaking for myself, I can do a better job teaching 21st century skills. The nice thing? The very tool that has changed the way our kids and we do our jobs has some very cool resources to help!

The first two tools your kids should get used to using are Zotero and Google Notebook.

Zotero is a free Firefox (and Flock) extension to help you collect, manage and cite your research sources. It lives right where you do your work — in the web browser itself. It is an easy-to-use research tool that helps you gather, organize, and analyze sources (citations, full texts, web pages, images, and other objects), and lets you share the results of your research in a variety of ways. Zotero has created several excellent video clips that walk you through the process of using the tool. Zotero is a production of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University and so has social studies teachers in mind.

Google Notebook does similar things. It is also a free, easy-to-use tool that works directly in your browser. It integrates seamlessly with Google Docs and, like Google Docs, allows sharing between notebook editors. Sharing in the sense that multiple students can be working on the same project at the same time. You could also be designated as an editor, giving you the ability to “peek in” on how the research is going. Google Notebook also allows the user to publish notebooks online for others to view and comment on.

The cool thing about both of these tools (besides the fact that they are free!) is that they integrate directly into the web browser. Students can simply click or drag and drop information into the software. This ease of use encourages quality use of the intellectual property with which they are interacting.

While both have some features that make the creation of a bibliography easier, another online tool makes the job of creating an annotated bibliography as breeze. BibMe is one of the coolest things I’ve used online.

BibMe has a massive database that you have access to; by simply typing in the title of a book, web site address, or magazine article, BibMe automatically enters ALL of the bibliographic information. I’ve included a few screenshots to give you an idea of how it works.

The resulting bibliography is formatted correctly (in a variety of styles) and can be saved, edited and exported into Word and other formats. It is an incredible time saver!
Twenty-first century tools provide access to an amazing amount of information. Be sure to use 21st century tools to help you organize it!

Have fun!