What are some simple ways to get started?
The best way to get started using WebQuests is to look at examples that reflect your personal interests or relate to areas you teach. After browsing a few different sites, try one out and go through it as if you were a student. Notice how the WebQuest is structured and what tasks the students are asked to accomplish. There are several master lists of WebQuests included on the Resources page and examples in the "Demonstration" section. These lists are a great place to begin.
Second, you might wish to think about something you taught with which you were unhappy -- a lesson in which the point didn't come across as well as you intended, or which you felt was too shallow or poorly structured. Be sure that the material you wish to cover is aligned with your state or district's standards.
Then, think about what higher-level task could be tied to that content. For example, you might consider the structure that frames the information you wish to present. How do the content and facts that you wish to teach fit together? How can students either discover these connections (with guidance from you) or be led to a deeper understanding of the subject by explicitly examining these connections?
In science, for example, you might look at how facts about biology were discovered and how, until Darwin and Mendel, no one understood why plants and animals had the shapes and variety that they do. You might have students read some of Darwin's descriptions of his fieldwork and discuss why these indicate a relationship between different species and even between plants, animals, and bacteria. A WebQuest on this topic could be designed to allow students to explore and debate issues around evolution and genetics. In fact, there are several WebQuests on genetics included in the links listed on the Resources page.
Tom Fehrenbacher, a teacher at Hoover High School, talks about using a WebQuest to do historical research on slavery.
Bernie Dodge is currently creating a WebQuest for seventh-grade science related to the debate over whether Pluto is actually a planet. The lesson will meet the standards covering knowledge of the solar system, but it will also allow students to get practice in understanding scientific progress and the nature of scientific debate.
The WebQuest includes a database of fifty different objects found in our solar system -- including comets, planets, asteroids, and other heavenly bodies. The students' task is to see if they can make up categories to classify these various objects. This will give them a much deeper understanding of the solar system than just memorizing the names of the planets.
The WebQuest deliberately withholds information about existing scientific categories for these objects, so that students can rediscover them and come up with defensible groupings of their own to increase understanding of the origins and nature of the various objects.
The second part of this WebQuest involves having students take sides: some will take the European and Japanese position, which is that Pluto is not a planet. Others will take the American view that it is one. The WebQuest ends with a simulated debate before the International Astronomer's Union.
The WebQuest on Pluto is a vehicle for thinking more deeply about astronomy and about the tentative nature of scientific knowledge, and how the scientific method is self-correcting.