Bing lesson plans can help students with critical thinking skills, Web research

A Siberian tiger takes a swim at the Antwerp Zoo in Belgium (© Hans Kuczka/Aurora Photos)
A Siberian tiger takes a swim at the Antwerp Zoo in Belgium (© Hans Kuczka/Aurora Photos)

As Alice Keeler looked at her batch of upcoming Bing home pages, the former high school math teacher found the image of the Siberian tiger swimming through the waters of a Belgian zoo very striking. But that wasn’t all.

She started brainstorming possibilities for how to use the image to create a lesson plan; the choices of content were many and wide-ranging (and, for example, could have included having students read William Blake’s poem “The Tyger“). Such lessons, available for free every day through the Bing in the Classroom program, are paired with Bing’s home page image of the day. Keeler is one of four teachers who work on the lesson plans, which are tailored to three different age groups (elementary, middle and high school).

Bing has published nearly 800 of them since the fall of 2013. As teachers and students head back to school, these short lesson plans give them another tool they can use to increase digital literacy and Web research skills.

“We get great feedback from teachers, particularly about the use of the lessons to drive real creativity,” says Matt Wallaert, a behavioral scientist at Bing who created Bing in the Classroom, which also provides free Surface tablets and ad-free Web searches to schools. “It’s easy for search to become about take the question, copy it into the search engine, copy back the answer. And that’s not genuine. Search should be about real things you want to know in the world, and real ways of finding bits of information that can help you learn about them.”

Anyone can get to the lesson plans through the Bing home page. In the lower right corner of the home page image, you click on the “Info” tab and on the results page, you’ll see the image, a short description of the image and underneath, a link to the lesson plans.

Bing home page lesson plan link
Bing home page lesson plan link

“People really like the idea as an important way to explore questions that aren’t being presented in standardized testing,” says Wallaert, who is often on the road and presenting research on digital literacy. “It’s a form of project based learning, and students learn how to present to the class and synthesize information.”

When paired with Bing in the Classroom’s ad-free search offering, the lesson plans allow students practice these critical thinking and search skills in an ad-free, safer, more private online environment. And for schools short on devices, Bing Rewards allows community members to help earn free Surface tablets, just by searching the Web.

The lesson plans all follow the same template, presented through a PowerPoint deck. They start with a critical thinking question designed so that students can’t answer it by simply plugging it into a search box. Then the plans suggest five follow-up questions that online research that can help answer the main question.

A slide from Keeler’s high school lesson plan for the Siberian tiger
A slide from Keeler’s high school lesson plan for the Siberian tiger

For the Siberian tiger image, which published July 29, Keeler started with the question, “Does having tiger parks breed captive tigers as a source of tiger-bone medicine decrease poaching of wild tigers?”

This question can be a launching point from which high school students can find out how many Siberian tigers are in the wild and in captivity, why they’re endangered and what poachers are after.

“I like this one because it is an opportunity to highlight the plight of an endangered species,” says the Central California-based Keeler, a mother of five who taught high school math for 14 years.

Through her blog, Teacher Tech, Keeler encourages other teachers to try out the lesson plans.

Wallaert says the emphasis on multi-part questions can help students work as a team as they gather different pieces of information from multiple sources and searches.

“That’s something only a human can do to get a real answer,” Wallaert says.

There’s also a blank template teachers can use to create their own questions.

“I try to think about questions that would encourage kids to use the Internet and develop skills they might not naturally think about on their own,” says Nell Bang-Jensen, an artist who teaches at numerous theaters and schools around Philadelphia and is developing curriculum for the Philadelphia Young Playwrights. She’s in charge of the K-4 lesson plans for Bing. “We’re giving them solid resources, websites they know they can go to. Some questions, they would have to look at a map, or watch a video, so they’re learning to interpret information presented in different ways.”

Bang-Jensen says the lessons can “lead to larger conversations.” She adds, “Using questions as a way of understanding the world is important.”

For example, with the image below, of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, Bang-Jensen realized the average third-grader may have heard of the famous bard, but might have no context on his life. With her lesson plan, they can check out his basic biography, but also watch clips and find out why people talk differently in his plays.

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, London, England (© Alain Schroeder/age fotostock)
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London, England (© Alain Schroeder/age fotostock)

For Christy Fennewald, who was contracted for a limited span of lesson plans that tied into Microsoft’s first-ever sponsorship of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the same image inspired a lesson plan that focused on Shakespearean sonnets. She also included a search for words he created and the chance for them to make up their own poems.

For the teachers who create the plans, the lessons help continue their education, too.

“I was a history teacher, so images that point to the deeper story are what I like to pull out,” says Ja’Dell Davis, who works in New York City’s Youth Services Department at the Educational Alliance as the assistant director for Higher Education Initiatives. She handles the middle school lesson plans. “It may be a beautiful image, but it could also be fraught with uncomfortable aspects.”

For instance, when she receives images of landscapes and cities, she researches the story behind the picture, its history and the people who live there or who settled it.

Keeler remembers an image featuring Danyang County in South Korea that was particularly challenging.

“I was expecting a major historical event associated with, but I found nothing. It took a while to find they had a unique folklore tale. So then I wanted to make it a broader question about how folklore develops. That’s not something you can go do a simple search for. You have to look up folklore, find different examples and draw conclusions based on evidence.”

“It’s a fun challenge to see what lessons come in every week,” says Bang-Jensen. “It feels like a puzzle, but it’s also engaging and worthwhile.”

Athima Chansanchai
Microsoft News Center Staff

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