Instagrok seriously puts the "cool"
back into research reports. It's super easy to use once you understand it! A "grok" is a visual concept map created for you based upon a search. It's pretty simple to get started- there a search bar, just like google, and you type in whatever you are doing research on. The concept map populates pretty quickly! Instagrok searches educational websites, pictures, and videos and puts together the best supporting concepts.
It's pretty, isn't it?? I love concept maps! Now, the real fun comes in. It's totally interactive. If you click on the video, it pops up a larger window and starts playing. If you click on the words, another window pops up with more details.
It's broken down into key facts, websites, videos, images, concepts, and notes. I have spent most of my time working with the kiddos in "key facts" but I think that as time goes on and they become more sophisticated in their research abilities I explore all the tabs with them. What a great way to teach them about determining importance!
When you click on each fact, it brings up the source of the information so you can view it yourself. It also gives you a little text box on the bottom where you can add your own notes.
You can then "pin" the resource to your journal, which saves the information for later so you can refer back to it (and the notes you made) while writing your research report. I have to tell you a major downfall I found though- instagrok includes results from wikipedia. I address this by having my students mark them "not credible" and having them disregard that information. If there is a fact they really love, I ask them to find it from another source to use it. If it's a reliable fact, they will find it again!
One of my favorite things about instagrok is that you can customize the level of difficulty!
In the top task bar, there is a difficulty slider. Kiddos can self-select their level of difficulty, or you can assign it for them. This is SUPER helpful when trying to get some deep information and understanding for enrichment kids! I have put them up to "difficult" and then been amazed at some of the things they have researched and put together. They have examined some of the intricacies of their topics and really done a fantastic job.
The grok stays really true to the topic, no matter the level that is assigned. At each one, the "meat" of the topic is really well represented. In the easy level, the student is introduced to the key components of the research topic. I like to think of it as the "quick and dirty" of the topic. They get the information they need without extra information to bog them down. This is great for kiddos that really have no prior knowledge on a difficult topic or for the students that struggle with retaining information. They get the knowledge they need, on their level, and are able to synthesize it into a written report.
When the research is done, it's time to write the report! I don't know about you guys, but typically this is the part that my kiddos hate. I can't tell you how many times I have had kids that did spectacular research and then failed to put it together in a meaningful way- resulting in a lackluster project. I have to tell you- instagrok has really revolutionized the research report in this way! All the information that you have pinned as you looked through your grok is easily accessible on the sidebar. You can refer back to it as you write your report. When you finish, a bibliography is populated in the sidebar, as well. Best of all, you can export your sources to EasyBib and have a bibliography populated for you! I love doing this to teach my kiddos the correct way to cite sources. Let's be real- fifth graders are not always the most detail oriented, and little things like bibliographies sometimes slip through the cracks. I once had a student turn in a research report with "my brain" listed as a source... not even listed in proper MLA format! ;)
Once the kiddos have finished their reports, they can email them as embedded text or print them. If you have assigned the project through your teacher account, the finalized report will show up in your teacher dashboard. The major downfall I see here is that you cannot save the file as a text document on your computer. Instead, I have had the file emailed to me and then I have copy/pasted it into Word. This is definitely not the fastest way to get things done, but it works for now.
Instagrok is totally free to use as a student, and the "teacher" account is free for 90 days. Once your 90 day trial is up, it is $45 a year to keep the "teacher" services. I have to say, I won't be signing up for a paid account once my trial is up. For me, I love the student portion of the site (researching and writing) but found the teacher dashboard a bit clunky and hard to use. I like walking through the computer lab and working with the kiddos on the research as it happens. I don't think I use the paid version enough to justify buying it. I will definitely keep using instagrok to help my students address the CCSS research and technology standards, though!