Last week was Count Basie’s birthday which sparked a conversation in my Advanced Jazz Band about the late Jazz musician’s life and contributions to Jazz. As a small project, we got out my class set of laptop computers (yes, you read that right!) and began to investigate the life of the Count.
When my students went to the Wikipedia, they were surprised to see that the entry for Count was not nearly detailed enough for such a legendary figure. We decided as a class that we would edit the Wikipedia entry to provide a more detailed account of his life.
What started out simply enough for the students (after all, how hard is it to google?) soon turned into a much bigger task when they realized that much of the information out there was on personal web pages or commercial sites and could not be considered authoritative. A great example is his middle name. There was disagreement among my students whether his name was William Allen Basie or William James Basie. Believe it or not it took us 2 hours to find the answer! We found LOTS of information supporting both versions, however as we looked at the source of the information, we found that we had to be very careful about what to accept as fact. We decided that the middle name was James after finding the US census record for his death certificate.
We are going to use this project as a writing exercise for the class (at our school we are required to do writing in all subjects). I am partnering with my academy English teacher to come up with a rubric for scoring the entry. Projects like this are exactly what we need to be teaching our students to do with technology- collaborate and INVESTIGATE. Since we are no longer the “gatekeepers of knowledge” it is incumbent upon us to empower students to make critical decisions when faced with overwhelming information.