The Great Online Library Scavenger Hunt
Project Summary

Students in elementary school are routinely taught library skills.  They learn how to use the card catalog, either traditional or electronic, and they learn simple research strategies.  In the ideal situation, students leave elementary school with a firm grasp of how to use the library and common reference tools, such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, almanacs and atlases.  These skills are a necessary foundation for further research skills.  Still, many children exit the elementary system unprepared for the research challenges they will face in the middle school environment; and, unfortunately, library instruction all too often is reduced, or even suspended, after elementary school.  This frequently leaves middle school students inexperienced and unprepared to fulfill research requirements.  

 Middle school instruction clearly must be approached differently than elementary instruction.  The students are at an age where they are fiercely trying to assert their independence; still, they do require some guidance.  They need to be challenged in an environment where they can succeed independently.  Furthermore, they must have access to assistance, which should be available at their own discretion.  A scavenger hunt can help fulfill this niche in the middle school setting.  It is an inventive way to offer middle school students a safe and fun environment in which to learn the basics of research.  In his article, “Hunting Season,” Walter Minkel cleverly defines scavenger hunts as “a sneaky way to teach library skills.”  The Great Online Library Scavenger Hunt is an attempt to provide middle school students with a fun and interesting challenge, while teaching them basic skills required for effective researching.   

The Great Online Library Scavenger Hunt is a tool that can be used to teach middle school students, grades 6-8, how to independently research using reference tools and the Internet.   Its intention is to provide a variety of learning formats that will make researching fun and educational.  The scavenger hunts are in an online format, with equivalent printable versions available.  The majority of questions can be answered using common reference tools or various free Internet resources.  

The Great Online Library Scavenger Hunt was created and designed to fulfill requirements for ILS 503-70, Foundations of Library Science, through Southern Connecticut State University.  The authors are Johnna Christensen of Tel Aviv, Israel, Ellen Nosal of East Hampton, CT, Julie Perry of Uncasville, CT, Shannon Ryan of Phoenix, AZ, and Maureen Wynkoop of Sicklerville, NJ.  The following procedures were followed in order to complete this project. 

 First, we chose for our audience middle school students, grades 6-8.  Next, we defined which skills the hunt should be focused on developing.  We knew that we wanted to offer a wide variety of topics, so that each student could find something catered to their interests.  The main objective was to make the hunt simultaneously fun and educational.  The students are rewarded with smiling emoticons for correct answers; furthermore, the pages are filled with animated graphics for the students’ amusement.  The final feature of the site is a special congratulatory page, with a printable certificate that can be opened at any point during the hunt.

 The idea of planning and executing a group project with people completely geographically scattered was a bit daunting at first.  It worked very well, however, and our distance did not prove to be a barrier to the group effort.  Although our main form of contact was through email communication, we met in the online chat room to solidify our plans and divide the duties as evenly as possible.  Members chose to develop different subject categories for the hunt.  Four members researched curriculum and created questions for the hunt, while one member concentrated on the technical aspects of creating the website.  This member located online testing software and translated all of the questions into a format compatible with the software. 

 The categories chosen were Mathematics, Science, Popular Entertainment, World History, United States History, Geography, Literature, General Reference, and the Dictionary.  We decided to include a page of hints and web links for all sections, in order to direct students to the correct answers.   We also decided it would be prudent to limit the suggested web sites so that the students would not be easily sidetracked.

 The level of difficulty and subject matter were dictated by the age of the audience and the corresponding age level curriculum.  Members researched their assigned subject areas and created questions to fit the format of the hunt.  Some members created questions utilizing print materials and then found appropriate web sites; other members started with web sites and then identified reliable print resources.

 One consideration we had concerned the access, or lack thereof, to varied print resources for many libraries.  Although the Internet provides the potential for many authoritative resources, print materials can be cost prohibitive.  Therefore, in an effort to make the test accessible for all, we tried to identify universal print resources that could be found in most school libraries.  Furthermore, we did not want the focus of the hunt to be only Internet related searching, so we decided that each hunt should be accessible in print form as well.  Consequently, we created a printable version of each hunt to accompany the online counterparts.

 For many of us, creating the questions was the most frustrating part of the project, because we were trying to create questions that could be answered in both environments. Initially, it was determined that all testing formats (i.e., matching, word searches, fill-in-the-blanks, etc.) could be used in the hunt.  This proved to be labor intensive for the web coordinator.  Questions were sent to the web coordinator as email attachments in Microsoft Word.  The web coordinator then edited the design and layout of the hunts to create the web site.  Some of the software used for the project was FrontPage, and the educational software Hot Potatoes. 

 Members of the group recruited students within the desired age group to try the scavenger hunt.  In this way, we were able to test all sections of the scavenger hunt on the intended audience.  Testing allowed us to gauge the level of difficulty, the wording of problems, and the time commitment required.  Testing helped us determine that at least 30 minutes was needed for most students to complete each section.  Amazingly, many adults thought the questions were too hard, but the middle school students were undaunted and accepted the challenge with vim and vigor.

 All in all, developing the scavenger hunt was an educational experience for us all.  We learned a great deal in terms of general knowledge, research skills, design, marketing, and audience analysis.   Nonetheless, upon review of our finished product, the following suggestions and changes would be made for the development of future scavenger hunt projects:

 ·        Before creating questions, it is better to decide on which web sites will be featured based on their value and then create questions around the sites. 

·        Software should be analyzed for functionality before deciding on question format.  This will allow for more consistency within each subject and reduce translation problems. 

·        Assign one universal font and layout before starting, so less manipulation is required to ensure cohesiveness at the end of the project.

·        A schedule of periodic online chat times and deadlines could help ease some anxiety and reduce last minute chaos. 

·        Because adapting the hunts from online format to print format, and vice versa, is so time consuming, it might be prudent to design different hunts for print and online resources. 




“Database scavenger hunt (activity project to get students to explore databases)" School Librarian's Workshop. Nov 1996: 5-6.

McCutcheon, Randall.  “Library scavenger hunts: a way out of the bewilderness” Wilson Library Bulletin Jan 1990: 38-40.

Minkel, Walter.  “Hunting Season.” School Library Journal.  Oct  1999: 43.

Nickerson, Gord.  “The virtual reference library (Internet scavenger hunt).”  Computers in Libraries.  May 1993: 37-8.  

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