Fostering the Spirit of Inquiry

We Are Inquirers!

In our water inquiry unit, we worked on weaving together a number of subjects: reading, writing, science and social studies, as well as embedding technology at the same time.

We started by creating burning questions about water, related to the main theme: ‘Water is Precious’.




We then synthesized and organized our questions to choose one which we wanted to focus on. After that we refined our questions to create three smaller questions which were easier to research.


Our next step was to begin our inquiry. We tried out the Cornell research method to help us gather information, synthesize it and paraphrase information using our own words.

Once we’d answered our three smaller questions, we synthesized the information again to find the main idea. We used this as the main message for a water presentation. In partnerships, we created presentations using provocative images and powerful words. We used everything we had already learned about technology tools to create an attention-grabbing presentation. Students were briefed on their task, but they had free choice in deciding on which tool would be best to create their presentation. Most students used i-movie, PowerPoint or Key Note.

It was amazing to see how well everyone used their information and created attention grabbing questions and statements to hook their viewers. The students had two 45 minute classes to create their presentations, so it really is great to see how well they can apply what they’ve previously learned in technology lessons and writing workshop.

Take a look for yourself and see what you think:

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Was the message in this video clear?

Were the images and words provocative?

Leave a message to let us know what you thought of the efforts of Grade 4 students, given that there was limited time to both research and create their presentations.


Let’s Mash It Up!

Influence Visual Literacy Project

As a final project in our Grade 4 Influence unit, I decided it was time to delve in and try out a mash-up. Although this was something I had hoped to try out with my students at some stage, it could be a big ask for 9 and 10 year olds. Two things convinced me to give it a go. Firstly, the students themselves proved that it could be done. Three students created mash-ups in a ‘Who Am I?’ project presented in November. That’s always the beauty of an open-ended task that gives structure but allows for creativity and interpretation. The second factor that helps me to try new things and take calculated risks in the classroom is the invaluable support of our ES Technology Coach, Sarah Fleming. So here goes! We’re jumping in with both feet!

What Factors Have Influenced Your Life & Who You Are?

There are many factors which influence each of us; our personalities, values, talents and interests.

Your Task:

Use imovie to tell the story of the main influences in your life.

Describe who or what has influenced you to become who you are:

  • Clearly describe your values and beliefs.
  • Identify the main influences in your life.
  • Describe who or what influenced your hobbies, interests, sports or talents.
  • Describe who or what has influenced your personality and values.
  • Describe factors that cause you to act the way you do (your personality & choices).

Standards and Criteria for Success

‘Mash up’ your ideas by using a variety of media.

Use visuals and key words to clearly explain the main influences in your life.

Your video should include:

  • Photos
  • Video
  • Music
  • Text
  • A title slide
  • Transitions
  • A concluding statement
  • Attributions (for any media used)
  • An understanding of copyright laws

Here’s a video which helps you understand fair use and copyright laws:

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Influence Presentation Outline & Rubric

Influence Student Self Reflection

Rubric for Influence ‘Mash-up’ Video


Explanation of influences


Use of Media


Theme is very clear to audience.  Ideas are connected and transitions between ideas are smooth.

Very clear explanation of influences in life.  Gives a detailed story of influences throughout life.

Includes specific examples of influences on personality & interests/talents. Includes people, places and events.

Very creative.

Uses a variety of media.

Gives clear attributions & follows copyright laws.


Clear theme. Ideas are connected.

Includes transitions.

Clear explanation of influences in life.  Tells the story of influences throughout life.

Includes examples of influences on personality & interests/talents. 

Uses a variety of media.

Gives some attributions. Shows an awareness of copyright.


Theme can be worked out. Some ideas are connected.

Few transitions are used.

Some explanation of influences in life but sometimes unclear.  Attempts to tell a story.

Includes some examples of influences on personality & interests/talents.  Could be more detailed or clear.

Uses some media.

Attempts to give attributions, but not in sufficient detail.


Unclear theme. Ideas seem unconnected. No transitions between ideas.

No or very little explanation of influences in life. 

General ideas. Specific examples not given.

One medium used.

No attributions given.
























Water is Precious

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Unit of Inquiry: Water is Precious

I’m excited to have an opportunity to create an authentic unit that integrates a number of core subjects and provides opportunities to link to IS Bangkok‘s Definition of Learning. Since we have a good window of time this semester, it will allow us 8 weeks to work on our original science unit, meeting the science standards and concluding with a student-selected scientific project. We will then have time available to extend the unit to meet Technology and Information Literacy (TAIL) and Global Citizenship standards and make the unit more authentic. As technology and global citizenship are both passions of mine, I’m hoping to create a unit that embeds technology meaningfully and authentically, makes our students more aware of global issues and best of all, enhances learning.

I will be discussing the potential of the unit in further detail next week with Chris Tananone, our Global Citizenship coordinator, and Teresa Belisle from the curriculum office, to further develop the links to the TAIL standards and Global Citizenship standards.

Science Unit- Water

Our current science unit focuses on water. The big ideas behind the unit can be expanded to include elements of social studies and technology while still focusing on the key ideas. Here are the main ideas behind the unit:

Transfer goals

**Water is the most important substance on Earth.

**Water dominates the surface of our planet, changes the face of the land, and defines life.

Essential Questions

**How does water change and why?

**Why is it important to learn about water?

**How do we, as scientists, learn about water?

Enduring Understandings

**Earth is a water planet with very little accessible to human consumption.

**Water supply is limited.

**Resources can be extended through recycling and decreased use.

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While I believe in IS Bangkok‘s Definition of Learning (DOL), it often seems that due to time crunches and the demands of the curriculum, many of the opportunities to embed the key elements of the DOL are lost. I’m passionate about providing authentic tasks, inquiry based learning and metacognition, therefore focusing on these areas is something I always try to make time for.

Definition of Learning (DOL)- International School Bangkok

**Apply our learning to new situations

**Inquire to extend our learning

**Create solutions

**Communicate our learning effectively

**Make connections across our learning

**Reflect critically on our learning

To extend the unit, my intention is to link the key ideas of our science unit on Water to our current social studies or global citizenship units on Influence and Is it Fair? As the influence unit focuses on how we can be a positive influence on others, I’d like the students to gain a greater awareness of how we personally use water and how we could conserve water in our everyday lives. The Is it Fair? unit focuses on social justice, and could be naturally extended to include inequitable access to water and connect to water facts such as how much fresh water is available on Earth. The TAIL standards could be embedded through an inquiry based research component, focusing on student-selected burning questions based on the idea of ‘Water is Precious.’ Students would be encouraged to use the cycle of inquiry and safe search engines to find information related to their question. This is a good chance to build on learning from earlier in the year and evaluate both research tools and products. Students could be encouraged to reflect on what worked well and what could be improved in the inquiry process and in their presentations.

Here are the Technology and Information Literacy standards which can be embedded in the unit of inquiry:

TAIL Standards

Effective Learners

Research self-selected burning questions related to ‘Water is Precious’

I aim to collaborate with our ES librarian, Nat Whitman, on the inquiry focus and research component. Identifies the inquiry focus and possible information sources. LEARNING TARGETS: a. Determine a research question. b. Identify information required to answer question. c. Brainstorm possible resources. Plans, conducts and manages structured searches for data and information. LEARNING TARGETS: a. Compare and contrast available search engines. b. Bookmark URL’s and manage bookmarks. Scans, evaluates, analyzes and organizes information from a variety of sources, (including text, visual, audio & video) attributing information source appropriately. LEARNING TARGETS: a. Determine if information answers research question. b. Evaluate information for credibility (believability) and accuracy (up-to-date). c. Organize information by title, author and publication date. Reflects on how and why the tools used have assisted the inquiry. LEARNING TARGET: a. Explain in what ways the tools used were helpful, not helpful.

Effective Communicators

Create a digital story demonstrating how water is precious. Students could show scientific ideas (facts), introduce global water issues and explain what we can do as global citizens. They would also be encouraged to show what action they would take to make a difference for others. The digital stories could be created using an appropriate tool such as PowerPoint, KeyNote, PhotoPeach, VoiceThread, Prezi or imovie.

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I aim to collaborate with our ES Technology Coach, Sarah Fleming, on how best to create a digital story to encompass all the key ideas stated above. Clearly articulates main ideas to be communicated. LEARNING TARGETS: a. Determine main ideas. b. Select interesting details to support main ideas. c. Decide and justify order to communicate main ideas. Identifies clear purpose, specific audience, and the appropriate media for communication. LEARNING TARGETS: a. Determine purpose for communicating ideas. b. Select and justify intended audience. c. Select and justify tools. Presents ideas, understandings and information clearly, using effective design and layout. LEARNING TARGETS: a. Determine and justify layout to help the audience understand main ideas and why. b. Select and justify visuals to best represent main ideas. c. Select audio to help convey main ideas and explain why. Reflects, analyses and identifies ways to improve the effectiveness of digital communication. LEARNING TARGETS: a. Explain what worked well and why. b. Summarize what was learned. c. Determine what would be done differently next time and explain why.

Effective Collaborators

I aim to collaborate with our Grade 4 team, as well as other classes such as Emily Roth at the American Community School of Abu Dhabi, to share ideas and explore global connections. I also hope to collaborate with Kenya Voluntary & Community Development Project (KVCDP) in Kenya to build further connections with Wagusu village in Western Kenya.

Students could connect with other grade 4 classes, and also try to connect with another class around the world, to explore how they use water and discover what issues they may face with water in their country of residence. They could also be encouraged to improve lives of others by conserving water and taking action to help the people of Wagusu village in Kenya who do not have access to clean, safe drinking water. They could also research, with help from experts, how water distillation works to provide safe, clean drinking water from salt water or dirty water.

YouTube Preview Image Collaborates with others, locally and globally, to contribute to the learning of others, using a variety of media. LEARNING TARGETS: a. Determine what we can teach others. b. Plan who we will collaborate with and why. c. Determine the best way to teach others and explain why. Contributes ideas when collaborating with others, locally and globally, to improve the lives of others, using a variety of media. LEARNING TARGETS: a. Explain in what ways we could improve the lives of others. b. Determine who needs this kind of help and explain why. c. Determine the best way to help others in this area and explain why. Connects with others, locally and globally, to develop desired skills and/or understandings using a variety of media. LEARNING TARGETS: a. State what you are trying to learn. b. Determine where we can go to find experts and how to connect with them. c. Explain how to find out what you need to know.

Ethical Citizens Routinely identifies owner/creator of information/media by attributing sources correctly. LEARNING TARGETS: a. Identify who “owns” the media/information. b. Recognize if the media/information can be used and explain how we know. c. Attribute media/information to its owner.

Here are the Global Citizenship standards which can be embedded in the unit of inquiry:

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Global Citizenship Standards

Explore global access to clean, safe drinking water. Focus on global water issues and explain what we can do as global citizens to help others in the world with limited access to safe water. Create a digital story demonstrating how water is precious.

I aim to collaborate with Chris Tananone, our Global Citizenship coordinator, to further develop the ideas of social justice, interdependence and sustainability.

Social Justice Understand not all groups within society are treated fairly. Understand there are basic human rights, but not everyone has them. Belief that things can be better and that individuals can make a difference. Take appropriate action to address injustice and/or inequality in their community .

Globalization and Interdependence Empathy towards others locally and globally. Make choices that will affect people and the local environment in positive ways.

Sustainability Understand some of the earth’s resources are finite. Identify finite resources and ways to conserve them. Explain reasons for resource conservation. Sense of responsibility for the environment and the use of resources.

I’m excited about the potential of this unit and how it could motivate students and enhance learning. My only concerns are being able to convince others in my team to trial it as well, in order to maintain consistency at our grade level. Time is always an issue, as both the process and creation of products can take significantly longer than expected.

Personally, the extension of this unit does not require a great deal of shifting in my pedagogy. I am a firm believer in scaffolding learning, inquiry based learning, metacognition and the creation of authentic tasks. I am also trying to incorporate the ideas of autonomy, mastery, and purpose to foster motivation, as recommended by Dan Pink in Drive. It is, however, always challenging to incorporate all of these areas effectively at the same time. While metacognition is a passion of mine, our reflection on the inquiry process and products created will most likely be fairly basic at this point. It will be a stepping stone for our final units, where we can build a greater depth of reflection. The unit will also provide an opportunity to focus on Bloom’s Taxonomy and the higher levels of thinking and creation.

Creating a whole unit of inquiry which fosters inquiry, reflection, creativity and motivation can only lead to success and enhance learning!

Laptops- How Can We Manage Them?

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Laptops and using technology in the classroom are all the rage. But how can we effectively manage our technological devices ?

Creating an effective classroom climate where students feel safe and act respectfully and responsibly is the key to an effective classroom, and that’s no different when we use technology.  Clear routines are important for a classroom to run smoothly, and it’s even more important when we’re using expensive pieces of equipment. Classroom management doesn’t happen without forethought and a highly skilled teacher, therefore management of technology, and the implications that a connection to a global network brings to a classroom, also needs careful thought. I agree with Julie Bredy in Managing Laptops, that we can’t be too regimented and guard computers like prison guards. Respect and responsibility are the key to students internalizing how we treat others, as well as materials, in the classroom.

Setting up routines, especially when using technology, needs explicit instruction. At beginning of this school year, before first using laptops, we discussed both laptop etiquette and our school Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). We discussed the respectful, responsible and safe use of technology in considerable detail. Since then, my students have shown the utmost respect for our school technology devices, with small lapses from time to time over safely carrying the laptops and plugging them in to charge. Working with elementary students, I don’t appear to have the same problems middle or high school teachers face. As the students don’t have their ‘own’ computer which they take home, there are seldom problems with downloading or changing things on the laptops. They are able to personalize their blogs, rather than their laptops, and none have gone crazy with widgets so far. Later in the year we’ll focus on the effect of widgets on their blogs so students can choose appropriate widgets for their home page. My students have also been responsible about using only the websites they’re directed to in lessons. They feel comfortable suggesting other websites if they know of other appropriate sites and I’m happy to check these out with them. What+Does+Our+Acceptable+Use+Policy+Say%3F by cherylt

At the beginning of the year, students learn to ‘fist’ computers, closing the lid most of the way so that their attention is directed back to the lesson. They’re shown how to hold the laptops with two hands, and I am consistent in enforcing this rule, as suggested in What is the Most Important Thing? Monitoring student use of computers by moving around the room is a simple classroom management strategy, which should not be new to teachers. My students are also assigned computer numbers, so they know to always take same number, no matter which cart. This saves time logging in as each laptop registers the user and starts up more quickly.

In a respectful classroom, our classroom agreements apply to everyone and everything we do in the class, including the use of technology. That way, it’s clear that what’s said online is the same as saying it face to face. Online safety is emphasized regularly, referring back to the idea of YAPPY, and not sharing personal information. We discuss this throughout the year as new things occur, and I’m open with the students about the dilemna of what to share online. In the same way as I often model during reading or writing workshop, I often ‘think aloud’ about whether it’s appropriate to post certain information on our blogs. This was a recent topic of conversation when we considered publishing our ‘Who Am I?’ projects online. I explained to the students that although I was extremely impressed by the quality of the projects and would love to publish them, I’m afraid that the personal information (names of family members, interests, hobbies, favorite things) shared in the presentations will put their safety at risk. I’ve been frank with my students and let them know that I’m trying to find a solution and am talking to the technology coach and others with more expertise than me. In the meantime, they can share the YouTube codes with trusted friends but I have asked them not to share them on their personal blogs to protect their safety. Students may later be given the option of publishing them on their personal blogs with parental permission, but this is still an option I’m mulling over.

Photo by Cheryl Terry

Other management tools which have worked well in the classroom are sticking labels for regularly used websites (URLs, log in and password) in student agendas. I have created class accounts for PhotoPeach, VoiceThread, YouTube and other digital tools, and students have access to them, with the user name and password displayed in the class and in their agendas. I make it clear that while students have access to the class YouTube account and other class websites, and can embed videos in their blogs, they must have my permission to upload any videos to the account. Whenever we make videos on imovie in the class, for recording presentations, lessons, groupwork, plays or discussions, they are uploaded to YouTube. Wherever possible the students are given control of filming the presentations and sharing them via imovie on YouTube. The importance of protecting our safety is emphasized, by making it clear that the videos should be unlisted and shared only with those we trust.

When using the internet for research, I have been purposeful this year in facilitating with our ES librarian and showing the students safe search engines. As mentioned in a previous blog post, Mirror, Mirror, students need to learn to filter information and connect it to their prior knowledge. They need to be explicitly taught the skills to deal with the barrage of information in the modern world, as well as having opportunities for practicing autonomy, mastery, and purpose as recommended by Dan Pink in Drive. Explicitly teaching effective strategies to filter and synthesize information will help empower the students to research ideas and questions they’re interested in.

Using the inquiry model helps to facilitate student learning and foster motivation, as does providing choice in how to present a product (What is the Most Important Thing?, Drive). As Dean Groom suggests in 23 Things about Classroom Laptops creating a remix is a perfect way to motivate students and foster creativity. By making learning fun and authentic, student interest is intrinsic and therefore students are less likely to be tempted by the distractions luring all of us.

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I make use of the resources available in the school as much as possible, enlisting the support of our technology coach, Sarah Fleming, to help to teach important ideas. I also make use of tech experts in the class to help others, using the ‘Ask 3 before me’ motto. I could now make the tech expert roles more explicit by posting the names of tech experts for certain tech tools or processes. This is often only possible a few months into the school year, once students have been exposed to a number of tools and their expertise becomes clear. The role of the computer monitor also needs to be reinforced, ensuring that computers are plugged in to charge, other laptop carts are returned on time and carts are plugged in when move from room to room.

Explicitly structuring lessons on how to write quality blog posts and quality comments makes blogging purposeful. This is again more powerful with support from our technology coach, and is often restricted by time and access to computer carts. Setting up an agreed schedule with a grade level colleague has helped ensure that I have access to 2 laptop carts at certain times of the day. As I am then without access to computers at other times, I have had to be flexible and creative in juggling my schedule. As I begin to use laptops more and more in lessons and for workshop rotations as the year goes on, flexibility will be key. Management routines will also need to be clearer and tighter when using laptops in workshop stations to help transitions to work more effectively. Keeping the computers logged on and making the expectations clear that students should simply log out or close the window they’re working on will help ease time lapses. To assist the quick set up and shut down of laptops, the tip from Classroom Management of Laptops to time the setting up of computers will help students to aim for a fast, safe and efficient start up and transition time. While I usually give a five minute and then a 1-2 minute warning of time remaining in the lesson or workshop station, Rock Hudson, gave a useful tip to encourage students to be on the carpet ready to begin the next lesson with a 5 minute countdown.

While my students each have their own headphones and USB, management of these devices still requires some tightening. Students are aware that they should use their headphones when accessing a game or website with sound effects, but are often lax at returning the headsets to the basket appropriately. While my students are now in the habit of saving work on their USBs, they need more explicit instruction on effective use of USBs. At the beginning of next year, I will ensure that students are explicitly taught to drag files from their USB onto the desktop, rather than working directly off USBs, to avoid contamination issues. They require a clearer time check and more reminders in the last part of a lesson to get ready for the final save on their USB. Students also need to clear their desktop and get into the habit of deleting items from the desktop as they save them on their USB.

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I often use the Smartboard to make expectations clear and to help students stay on task. I also model what effective use of technology looks like by using the Smartboard to create blog posts, embed Youtube videos and insert photos using creative commons with attributions. At this time of the year, after reasonable exposure to different technological tools and devices, the students are given an explicit overview of grade level expectations (What is the Most Important Thing?) and what they should have completed by the end of the lesson.

Google docs can be a tricky tool to manage, but guiding the use of the docs in the first lesson or two saves a lot of misunderstandings. Demonstrating the most efficient ways to log in, share work with the teacher (creating a folder which is then shared) and share docs with their writing partner or peer-editor helps to set up systems which will continue throughout the year. Restricting the number of people they share their docs with is a good first step, which can then be expanded as the year goes on. I’d now love my class to share their writing with a wider audience, including their grade level peers and global connections. I’ll also make the expectation clear that if a piece of work is shared with you, you should then comment on it. As we’re still in the beginning stages of using Google docs effectively, we’ll need to focus on making constructive comments and giving positive feedback. While my students are now skilled at giving specific oral feedback, they need more explicit instruction on giving specific and useful written feedback to their peers. Out of respect for their partners, my students will then be responsible for reading their comments and taking note of their advice. While it is ultimately their choice whether or not to make changes, many students require explicit instruction on how to proof read their work and make improvements to their writing, and they should be aware that this process is important to become an effective writer.

Students should be taught to be flexible and smart when using technology, and be aware that the school network can be slow or unreliable at times. We generally have a backup plan and many students will take out books if their computer is slow to start up or connect to the network. Students should also be aware of backing up their work, saving often. We all learn the hard way if we lose work. Hester’s idea of giving a warmup problem or reviewing homework while computers are starting up would also help us to use time more efficiently (You got to move it move it). What’s important is always to have an alternate plan, rather than solely relying on technology. Planning work before using the computer, such as using a graphic organizer or storyboard, can help us all make better use of our time and create a more effective product, as encouraged by Jeff Utecht when designing a movie or presentation.

Using technology isn’t easy, and it’s not foolproof, but guiding students on how to use it safely, responsibly and respectfully is a great way to ensure that students can get the best out of the technological devices at their fingertips.

Do You Have the Right to Use It?

How often have you seen students paste in images they’ve found on Google into projects? How about taking music from YouTube and inserting them into slideshows? Copyright and giving credit to the authors of work often go by the wayside in Asia and other parts of the developing world. But is this fair? What is our obligation as educators?

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Since starting at the International School Bangkok, when I was first introduced to Compfight, I’ve encouraged students to use safe tools to search for images and give attributions (with a lot of support from our fantastic Technology Coach, Chrissy Hellyer). It is amazing to see how quickly most students catch onto this, how eloquently they can talk about copyright symbols and what they stand for, and how easily they can find and attribute images to enhance their work. This is ultimately the goal we should aim for as teachers, and we should advocate for fair use of media in the classroom.

This is not to say that everything goes 100% smoothly all the time. Some students take a long time to copy and paste attributions. Others lose documents and attributions. And of course there are always those who turn up to class with projects plastered with pictures taken straight from Google searches. Do I toss their work into the bin? Certainly not. But I do talk about my expectations and how I would like them to search for and cite the creator of images in the future.

What are the implications of this? Only that we should continue to talk about fair use of media in the classroom and instil the idea that we are using products that some people rely on for their livelihood. We may be in their position at some stage in our lives and do we want people taking our ideas and using them as their own? This is also the case for many of us who live in Asia or other parts of the world where Copyright laws are lax or don’t exist. It’s our job to inform students of their rights and responsibilities, and then encourage them to make informed decisions.

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As with Doug Johnson, my educational philosophy is that education is about teaching people to think rather than to believe. Johnson states that we also ‘need to help individual students arrive at personal comfort levels when using protective creative works’ (How We Teach Copyright).

This is also the case when using other forms of media, such as videos, music and clip art. YouTube is quick to take down videos which have used music without permission, and often this is just a genuine oversight on the part of the creator.

Creative Commons is the key to using images without infringing copyright laws. Creative Commons licences also give users the opportunity to use music, clip art and other forms of media with few complications. The only obligation is to check the Creative Commons licences, which often involve simply giving attributions for the images. Most often the authors also do not wish users to alter their work or make money from them either.

Other sites which provide links to Creative Commons media are Jamendo, for sources of copyright free music, the Open Clip Art Library, for accessible clip art, and SpinXpress for other forms of media.

In today’s age of technology, our access to digital tools and media is seemingly unlimited. But we do have the obligation to consider our use of digital media and give credit where it’s due. By using tools such as the Fair Use Evaluator, we can also assess our use of resources as educators in the classroom. Emphasizing the use of Creative Commons through sites such as Compfight or Wylio is the key to success with students. Informing students of the tools at their fingertips and their responsibilities as digital users will help all of us utilize the many resources available to us in the best possible way.