Sprouting Good Habits with Science Reference Center

Library Resources | Arlen Kimmelman| January 08, 2018

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Clearview Regional High School Librarian Arlen Kimmelman describes her strategy for using EBSCO’s Science Reference Center database to teach information literacy and critical thinking skills to Honors Biology students.

With STEM education at the forefront of current academic initiatives — and the expansion of STEM to STEAM and STREAM (where A are the Arts and R is Reading or Research) — resources such as EBSCO’s Science Reference Center (SRC) become and remain invaluable in creating and supporting information literate critical thinkers.

Recently, the Honors Biology teachers at Clearview Regional High School wanted their students to understand the difference between a popular magazine and an academic journal. To analyze experimental research design, or even compare, contrast, and evaluate the effectiveness of others’ experiments against their own results, the students needed to be able to use a database to access and locate credible sources and to properly cite their sources.

I start the class discussion by asking students to identify the difference between a magazine and an academic journal and guiding their responses to get to the essence of what makes good science publishable: peer-review. Our students learn that resources for research in any subject need to be authoritative, accurate, unbiased, current and at a reading amount and level that suits the learner and the purpose. SRC provides those resources. While “seed germination” isn’t a topic that’s usually susceptible to unsubstantiated news stories, this is the type of search engine research the students were used to doing, and it needed a bit of an adjustment to satisfy the needs of their Honors Biology labs. So, we start searching “seed germination.”

As with any search, it’s important for the students to practice searching with the keywords that will produce the article results they want. When SRC produces suggested searches as students type, it simultaneously generates keywords of which I suggest students take note. In this class, students can see that some of the terms their teachers want researched — such as salinity and light — also appear in the suggested search terms. I also teach the students to try out other search terms and keywords and introduce them to the advanced search features in SRC.

Limiting and refining results always gets met with groans of “This is too much work” and “Can’t we just Google?” However, by working our way through the search limiters together, we demonstrate how many useable — and manageable — results we have returned. For example, an unfiltered SRC search of “seed germination” produces 190 results, while a “seed germination” search in Google produced “About 2,580,000 results,” the first of which came from a Wiki site. Click “Full Text,” and they’re at 187; change “1975” to “2012,” and they’re at 51; click “academic journals,” and they’re at 28. I bring to their attention that they still haven’t really had to think or read too much! They’re just clicking around and letting the database do the work for them. Moreover, even if the academic journal results are too difficult for them to comprehend, they simply go into advanced search and limit the results’ reading level. One student summarized the effectiveness and ease of refining results in SRC:

Googling can give you thousands of websites to use as a source, but they aren’t always reliable, and it's hard to narrow them down using Google. Using the databases helps us find good sources that support our research instead of finding a weird and random website with something that could be completely made up.

Other students said, “It's easier than Google because you know the information is reliable, and it provides sources in certain formats” and “Science Reference Center is a great way to find real information that you need for science subjects. It doesn't give you false or incorrect data.”

At this point, some students may still feel they haven’t found what they need. This is a great time to point out another way that SRC does the thinking for them: each article includes benchmarks, subject terms and an abstract. This offers them another place to “just click” to find additional subject-specific resources. After showing the students these tools, they realize they can find topics that are “better and more specific,” “much easier to find by narrowing down what you want,” and “give you a more direct answer to what you are searching for” than from their usual search engine. The students latch onto these tools quite easily once they see how much of the work the database has already done for them.

It can be overwhelming, though, for these new researchers to have the time and skill practice to know when they’ve hit upon just the right resource for their purposes. SRC furnishes a timely solution: It can save the articles to Google Drive or Google Classroom. This tool powerfully extends the benefits of SRC for students. Students can save many articles to Google Drive in a short amount of time and can access and review them for homework or during a subsequent class period. Students can split the work with their lab partners, each finding and saving fewer articles, and then share and access all the articles with their lab partners.

Though neither their teachers nor I required the students to use their Google Drives to save any articles, since I showed them the tool, I decided to also ask them if they used it: “Did you use Science Reference Center with your Google Classroom (for ex., saving an article to Classroom or Drive)?” Almost 60% of the students did.

Using EBSCO’s Science Reference Center is a win-win-win: happy students, happy librarian and happy teachers.

According to teacher Kyle Rosa, “Utilizing the Science Reference Center provides students with access to primary sources in the biological sciences that is required for college research. Early exposure to this literature through the database is critical to helping them learn the skills to differentiate among tertiary, secondary and primary sources. My students found Science Reference Center to be much more comprehensive and tailored to their specific needs than attempting to research blindly on the internet.” 

Download Arlen Kimmelman’s Honors Biology Slide Presentation

Learn more about Science Reference Center

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Arlen Kimmelman
School Librarian and Techbrarian, Clearview Regional High School

Arlen Kimmelman is a School Librarian and Techbrarian at Clearview Regional High School in Mullica Hill, New Jersey. She is also a National Board Certified Teacher, a Past President of the New Jersey Association of School Librarians, Google for Education Certified Trainer, and a 2015 NJ Governor’s Educational Service Professional of the Year.

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