One of the signs that spring has finally arrived is the Masters Golf Tournament. While I am not a golfer, there is something that I find utterly compelling about this event. Maybe it is the azaleas or the meticulously manicured grass. Maybe it is the multiple day test of endurance and the multitude of changes in the leaderboard. To celebrate the arrival of spring and the Masters, I present Wikipedia Golf: A critical thinking activity where you look for ways that Wikipedia entries are connected.
Let's tee off!
In an 1996 Wired Magazine interview, Steve Jobs said:
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they've had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”
In his view, those that are most creative are those individuals that have had the most experiences or exposure to a wide range of topics. These topics are not necessarily part of the standardized curriculum. Instead, these experiences are often based in our own interests. Additionally, these interests are often unrelated to one another.
To build your students’ capacity for making connections, I suggest creating a set of experiences for your students that I am calling Wikipedia Golf. For me, this whole idea stems from my own experiences in the mid 1990s when I got my first computer with a CD-Rom drive. As was customary back in the day, a new computer purchase also bought you a set CD-Roms. Some were definitely more useful than others. The one that I was most excited about and spent the most time with was Encarta. Now, I had always loved the encyclopedia growing up, and often found myself looking things up just for fun. Encarta brought this love of learning and discovering to a whole new level because Encarta introduced to me something that we all now take for granted: hypertext.
The ability to be reading an article and to simply click on a hyperlink and be instantly transported to another article on a related topic was exactly the type of “rabbit hole” that my curious mind had always longed for. I can not tell you the number of hours and even days that I spent perusing the Encarta filling my brain with a wide range of information that I did not even know that I was interested in leaning.
Wikipedia Golf takes this idea of “rabbit hole” exploration from my time with Encarta and transforms it into a game of exploration and connection building for your students. The idea is this: what is the least number of clicks that will take you from one entry on Wikipedia to a seemingly unrelated entry. The only way that you can move forward is by selecting a hyperlink on an existing page. For example, how many clicks would it take to go from Albus Dumbledore to Honey bee?
While at first glance, these two things might seem that completely unrelated, but by reading the Wikipedia entry for Albus Dumbledore, we learn that the name Dumbledore is an Early Modern English word for “bumblebee”, and that because of his love of music, J. K. Rowling envisioned him humming to himself a lot.
Click one is obviously “bumblebee”. We then learn that bumblebees are social insects and form colonies, however these colonies are smaller than those of “honey bees”. Click two and we have arrived at our goal! Certainly, not every round of Wikipedia Golf is going to be quite this easy, but with some practice you might find that like Kevin Bacon there are often only six degrees of separation between almost anyone and anything.
TIP: Use the FIND feature!
One critical strategy in Wikipedia Golf is to make use of the Find function in your web browser. You can select this from the Edit menu or by using Command F on a Mac or CTRL F on a PC. This will activate a search box that allows you to enter a word or phrase. All uses on the current webpage will be highlighted. This allows you to quickly see whether or not a word exists on the page. The Find function is incredibly helpful not only when playing Wikipedia Golf, but when searching for any piece of information.
TIP: Burn the (Search) Candle at Both Ends!
When looking for connections it is often helpful burn the candle at both ends or to search from both the beginning and ending points. Try opening up two separate tabs or windows with each of the searches and then working toward the middle. What may not be an obvious connection at first often becomes very apparent in a few clicks. Note, that like most things in life this does become easier with practice and experience. That being said, not every combination may be possible. Have students challenge each other to find a solution and then challenge others to make the same connection in the same or fewer clicks.
Remember the goal here is to allow students to build their background knowledge while looking for connections between seemingly unrelated topics. Making these connections is one hallmark of synthesis and a creative mind.
What follows is a collection of potential topics to use for your own game of Wikipedia Golf. I have assembled twenty different entries in seven categories for you and your students to choose from. I purposefully selected each entry based on topics that might be of interest to your students and the quality of the entry. More specifically I included pages that included a wide variety of links to other Wikipedia entries. Using Google Spreadsheets, I created a random generator that selects from all 140 Wikipedia topics. Each time you hit the refresh button or add something new to the spreadsheet, then the start and end points will be randomly selected.
Wikipedia Golf Google Spreadsheet for viewing.
To make your very own copy CLICK HERE.
Six Degrees of Wikipedia
Playing Wikipedia Golf can be very challenging at first. When you and your students reach the point of frustration and are ready to give up and say, "This is impossible!". Never fear, the Internet is here and ready to help. Let me introduce you to Six Degrees of Wikipedia. This site combs through all of the Wikipedia and presents you with the possibilities using the fewest clicks and an interest graph showing all of the pathways. For example, here are the possible paths from Amelia Earhart to Buzz Lightyear.