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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A Fourth Grader Wikipedia Update

I just wanted to relate something that I think shows the power of a Wiki in general and Wikipedia particularly.

My son, in 4th grade here in California, was assigned a research report on the California Gold Rush and decided to focus his report on the different routes taken by the 49ers. He used a variety of different resources and particularly used the California Gold Rush Historic Maps from the David Rumsey Map Collection. There is one map in particular that has an incredible description written in 1849 of the different routes: Map of the Gold Regions of California, Showing the Routes via Chagres and Panama, Cape Horn, &c. If you are into maps, this is a fun one to drill down on to see the description.

Of course, my son read the Wikipedia California Gold Rush page (it comes up first in Google). It had a paragraph on the routes, but it didn't include the route through Mexico. It did point us to a detailed article on the California Trail. Because it was rather limited about the routes, my son added a sentence about the route through Mexico and added the Map to the Wikimedia Commons and added the map to the article and added a link to the collection of maps on the topic.

Now 4th graders doing the same project will be able to find that same wonderful primary source.

It's actually somewhat rare that a 4th grader has a primary source like the map, so it's quite a nice little legacy to leave behind. Actually, I don't remember having anything as cool as that to study when I was in school. It's quite remarkable when I think about it.

And it shows the beauty of a Wiki and Wikipedia.


Anonymous said...

It is very cool. It's very motivating for kids to be able to show them that
a) their knowledge and expertise are relevant and
b) they are good enough to share with others.
Much better than busy work; they can make a real contribution. Even kids who are too young to have very developed language skills can contribute to the Simple English version of Wikipedia.

The other point I find interesting in this experience is how more primary sources are available because we have these online resources. It jumped out at me here because I'm working on a course about online primary sources. This is a perfect example of something that probably wouldn't have been possible before these resources were available online. You say it's rare that a 4th grader has a primary source like that, and I agree that it is. That begs the question though: Does it have to be rare? Or are there enough resources out there that it could be much more common than it is?

Anonymous said...

Would it be embarrassing to admit that this post just gave me goose bumps? Maybe it's just 'cause I love this geeky stuff - or maybe it's because I have a 2 1/2 year old and I just think she is so lucky to be coming into all of this available information. Way to go for your son!

David Gerard said...

What's fourth grade there, nine years old? I used to *devour* encyclopedias when I was nine or ten. That's really why I devote stupid amounts of my time to Wikipedia.

Anonymous said...

David, yes, 4th grade is 9 or 10 years old. I just heard someone this week explain it as the "Rule of 5": You can add 5 to the grade to get the age (although that's the age they start the year; by summer most kids have had their birthday).

Tony Karrer said...

Yes, he's 10 years old. I can't say his addition to Wikipedia is any great work of research, but it's cool that it happened.

The primary source availability is actually quite a cool (and relatively new) development.

Gregory Kohs said...

Before you get all goose-bumpy about how wonderful your child's addition to Wikipedia was, keep in mind that it actually violates one of Wikipedia's legion rules -- that of WP:NOR (no original research).

If the map is a primary source, and it requires the interpretation of a 4th grader to derive the Mexican route, it's verboten. Better to have the child find a secondary source that blandly states that there was a route through Mexico.

Isn't Wikipedia great? So burdened with ridiculous rules, ANY spark of creativity is sure to be stifled in short order by some bureaucrat.

Tony Karrer said...

Gregory - I actually thought that restriction was that you couldn't put on your own theories as opposed to not being able to directly cite sources like the map. But I could be wrong.

There certainly is a whole culture around Wikipedia with lots of quirks and shouting down and other stuff that makes it a bit intimidating. At the same time, so far, this has been a good experience. If it gets deleted tomorrow, I'll report back. :)

Anonymous said...

Tony, if the map shows a route through mexico, its fine. If the map showed a pass in mexico that was usable, and the user read about some people going through mexico, and put 2 and 2 together, thats OR. Good on you for showing your son the value of collaborative endeavors.

Tony Karrer said...

The map not only shows the route, it includes a textual description of the route and advice such as "groups of 40 to 50 are recommended to avoid robbers" - it's really a fantastic resource.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that is really great. And no, it isn't original research. The policy on primary sources reads: "For that reason, anyone—without specialist knowledge—who reads the primary source should be able to verify that the Wikipedia passage agrees with the primary source." A fourth grader probably doesn't have specialist knowledge (although this one seems really smart!).

Tony Karrer said...

I appreciate the help in understanding what Wikipedia's policy. That makes a lot of sense when I think about it.

And, while I think my son is pretty smart, he's definitely not that exceptional. Which is part of what makes this so interesting to me.

If we could harness this same kind of ethos inside an organization or in industry groups, it could be truly fantastic.

Jaakko H. said...

In re: "all those stupid Wikipedia rules"

... And if all else "fails":

There's always the rule that says that "If there's a rule that limits you from making Wikipedia better - then break it!" (or something like that)

Sure it's not black-n-white clear but so isn't the world we live in...