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May 16, 2013

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THE NEW MEDIA CENTER: Noodling Around in the New NoodleTools

THE NEW MEDIA CENTER: Noodling Around in the New NoodleTools

My teachers are always asking about good online sites that will help their students cite their sources. “If I’m citing a magazine, do I also need to cite the database I found it in? What online citation tool should we use? Can you help me?”

Citation questions are more challenging as information formats increase, evolve, and become entwined. Teachers and media specialists alike have questions about what style to use and at what age students are able to cite sources. Many students are challenged by the basics of citing a book or website; others find interviews, government documents, and social media challenging. This column addresses NoodleTools, a product that’s been in use since 1999 and continues to advance. A product overview is provided for people unfamiliar with NoodleTools as well as information about numerous new and unique features.

NoodleTools is more than a citation tool. CD McLean, library department chair at Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, Fla., describes NoodleTools as “a complete writing system: soup to nuts, really for the kids.” Integrated dashboard components help students learn and apply information literacy skills as they develop a research question, thesis statement, to-do list, and online notecards. They can organize notecards into piles and outlines, archive resources, and work collaboratively. The paper-writing component is integrated with Google Drive and Google Apps for Education. Teacher accounts have a classroom management system for creating student assignments and providing feedback throughout the project.

NoodleTools is differentiated. Teachers can direct users to an appropriate level: Starter, Junior, or Advanced. Teachers can choose a level for the whole classroom or for different levels as needed. Teachers can also direct students to three citation styles: MLA, Chicago/Turabian, and APA, making NoodleTools well suited for schools that do not have a standard citation protocol or situations where teachers agree that exact citation style isn’t as important as students learning the importance of crediting their sources and learning a research process.

Show Me Information Literacy Tutorials are new and unique to NoodleTools. Differentiated, progressive tutorial content is practical, visual, and colorful. It is presented in self-paced slide shows that help users as they begin the citation process. Each of the 20 tutorials helps students critically evaluate information and source it properly, rather than cut/paste. Each tutorial has language appropriate for the level and focuses on a single resource format to explain the following:

• What it looks like

• How to evaluate it

• How to cite it

Directions for embedding tutorial widgets in blogs, webpages, and LibGuides are on the NoodleTools site. Individual Show Me pages can also be embedded by copy/pasting the code provided. There is even a print option available for each page, which is useful for printed project guides.

Differentiation and Show Me Tutorials in Action

Note that all three styles are accessible in each level; only one is mentioned for each example.

The beginner level (upper elementary and middle school) offers three citation styles for six common resource formats. Correlating tutorials clarify common formats: book, born digital image, magazine, reference source, and website. The seven-slide book tutorial features covers of kid-appealing books, sample author credentials, suggested evaluation ideas, tips for searching within a book, and key title page components for the citation. Creating a Chicago/Turabian-style citation is as easy as filling in template blanks. Drop-down menus help users identify specific roles such as author, editor, or contributor. Pop-up definitions of roles such as contributor and author are helpful. Other pop-ups explain things such as capitalization rules, citing publishers and locations, and helpful tips for beginning researchers.

Junior -level researchers can use citation templates for 16 resource formats including radio and television programs, interviews, anthologies, and websites. Anthologies and newspapers are represented in the seven junior tutorials. The website Show Me tutorial clearly explains what a website is, shows types of sites, and points the viewer to using “about,” date updated, author credentials, fact-checking, and URL analysis. The APA template prompts users to look at the website for dates of publication, titles, contributors, and their roles. The citation tool makes it very clear to even a beginner that there is more to citing a website than the URL.

Advanced high school and college users can select from almost 100 unique templates for both common and less frequently used print and digital formats in seven categories.

• Commonly cited resources

• Periodicals

• Nonperiodical print

• Exclusively online

• Audio, video, and images

• Unpublished materials

• Legal and government documents

Eleven advanced tutorials teach users how to cite and evaluate both traditional print resources and more complex formats such as works of visual art, blogs, and journals. The tutorials are helpful for students using formats that can be challenging for even experienced researchers. For example, the Pamphlet Show Me describes both contemporary and historic primary source examples, clearly describes physical formats, and provides ideas for locating hard-to-find citation information. The MLA citation template provides further options for defining your resources as a brochure, leaflet, or tract. A pop-up explains how to use the last name field when the author is not a person. A student who wants to cite a database is asked, “What type of source are you citing from the database?” Such a thorough list of possibilities will likely encourage closer examination and thinking about the chosen resource.

All citation template “just-in-time” pop-up help boxes are displayed as the user is entering information in a specific form field. This eliminates a need to visit another page or becoming confused by unneeded information. All citation levels have a double-check source feature, e.g., “Could this web site be an online reference site?” Students can switch on-the-fly to different templates or citation styles at any time. Any student or teacher can use Have a Question to get personal help on a citation.

The Student Dashboard and Collaboration in Action

The dashboard organizes student work environments for effective research. Students can access all tools, work with their projects, submit work, and act on feedback from teachers all in one place. Students can also copy, rename, delete, or archive projects. Archived copies of their webpages and PDF sources are linked to the citation and notecards. 

NoodleTools fully supports group collaboration that models a real process: Students can add their peers to their projects as full collaborators or reviewers to simultaneously work on a single project, view each other’s changes in real time, compile notecards and ideas, or create outlines from separate locations. Notecards can be moved and organized in piles in the virtual tabletop. One mini word processing “page” provides space for direct quotations; another is designated for paraphrase and summary, a useful technique for encouraging students not to plagiarize. Selecting the Paper tab connects the user to his or her Google Docs login. Students accustomed to using Google Docs will note the similarity between the two tools when they grant access rights to others. Submitting work to a teacher is done via the teacher-created NoodleTools drop box, a feature unique to NoodleTools. The submission process will be intuitive for many students.

NoodleTools user McLean enthusiastically described the unique NoodleTools Collaborative features:

Our history teachers have accounts; they track notecards and sources and also grade outlines online. The teacher and I work as a collaborative team during the research process to ensure that the student has not only the correct amount of sources, but also the correct type of sources (2 primary sources, for instance). I am able to go into each source and evaluate it and leave comments to the student that let them know when a source needs to be replaced or if a source identified as a primary source, isn’t in fact primary. We do a lot with website credibility … author credibility and their reasoning for using the site in the annotation field for certain projects.


The collaboration comes in the interaction. No longer is there a wait with nothing due between assignment given and paper due date. Every interaction with the Noodle­ Tools database is date stamped and visible. If the student isn’t doing work, it is all there to see. I go through notecards as well and look at paraphrasing and warning signs such as 6 sources, 5 of whom have 2 note cards and 1 source that has 35 notecards. That student is relying too heavily on one source and is in danger of plagiarizing. The teacher and I serve as a tag team. The teacher grades the research paper, with the parenthetical citations.

More New and Unique NoodleTools Features

Quick Cite WorldCat Integration makes it almost impossible to make a book citation error. Enter the ISBN, author, or title to view the record in WorldCat. Import the selected citation, review for correctness, and add it to the bibliography.

Quick Cite Copy and Paste Preformatted Citations is useful when working with sources such as EBSCO or Gale databases. This feature is a great time-saver, especially when a citation is lengthy or complex. A final warning in the submitted bibliography cautions the user that the citation is preformatted, giving the student one more opportunity to make sure everything is correct and properly formatted.

• There are templates for citing digital media such as blogs, Twitter, and other microblogs as well as for legal sources such as government documents, court cases, and statutes. Other commonly used legal sources not covered in the MLA, APA, and Chicago handbooks are based on The Bluebook, the definitive style guide for legal citation.

• Online document archiving and annotation, in collaboration with iCyte, allows a researcher to archive and add annotations to webpages and PDF files and to save a permanent copy of web content cited. This is a to way refer back to the source as it existed at the time it was actually cited; it is helpful for resources with frequent updates.

• NoodleTools is fully iPad-accessible. It takes less than a minute to add a NoodleTools icon to your iPad while watching a quick how-to video. This is not an app, but a website redesign offering improved accessibility.

• While not new, the NoodleTools support center with downloads and tutorials is worth noting. An extensive user’s guide is packed full of screen shots and tips. Media specialists will appreciate the PowerPoint presentations they can use to teach students and faculty.

NoodleTools Premium is a subscription package with pricing available for schools and consortia. But much is available for free. NoodleTools Express is useful for just a few citations; users do not need a login. Create MLA, APA, or Chicago citations and copy/paste them into a word processing document. NoodleTools MLA Lite has no notecards, outline, collaboration, or sharing features, but it will help you get the feel for the program. NoodleTools Lite users will need to register for an account. NoodleQuest, which helps students with research, and Knowledge Base, a Q&A, are also free. KnowledgeBase articles may be written when there are numerous tickets about a topic.

Teacher resources have helpful information about literacies, collaboration, ethical research, and professional development. Much of this is free to nonsubscribers. Noodling, the NoodleTools blog, keeps readers up-to-date on package enhancements, news, server issues, resources, and more. The Show Me Information Literacy tutorials are accessible as a free stand-alone resource. Brief, just-in-time video tutorials help teachers master the basics of drop box set up, management, and viewing quickly.

Citing sources is not easy for teachers to teach or for students to learn. The NoodleTools approach that makes citation part of a complete package for research and writing makes sense. NoodleTools is a 21st-century literacy and differentiated research package that is intuitive and modular. Start Noodling!


Contact Mary Alice at



Prod. NoodleTools. NoodleTools. NoodleTools, Inc., 12 May 2012. Web. 5 March 2013.

McLean, CD. “Chat with One of my History Teachers.” 21 Feb. 2013. Email.

NoodleTools. NoodleTools, n.d. Web. 5 March 2013.

“NoodleTools Provides Its Show Me Information Literacy Modules Free.” Internet@Schools. Information Today, Inc., 13 Dec. 2012. Web. 5 March 2013.

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