Engaging students in rigorous research

May 18, 2014 at 12:07 PM Leave a comment

Engagement, rigor and research don’t usually go together, but finally, they sort of did for most students, most of the past week or so. I’m kind of excited about it, and enjoying helping students in a more relaxed and friendly way than usual.

This follows by the way, from the previous post about kids picking an environmental action. This next phase of the Take Action Project (TAP) is the science part of the project.

Here’s what’s working:

Started with a 5. Sorting Sources and 5. Screen Shots to Sort. So many students need coaching around this important literacy skill, and this one worked pretty well.

Then did some research lite6. TG Internet Detective 6. Internet Detective a quick survey of websites, some of which are provided by me, with only a verbal report out – a cool fact they share with the class, and maybe post on their issue white board.

We played with how to make a cause and effect flow chart. 7. Cause and Effect DiagramSurprising how many are unclear on the concept of cause and effect. So we did it around being late for school, so it was really applicable to their lives, plus quite the window into their real lives. Then they did the same with what they learned so far about their environmental issue.Cause and Effect research

We took it outside to play the ‘Relationship Game’ with playground chalk 8. The Relationship Game to illustrate each issue and connect them. Really fun, especially after Marshall tweaked it to have kids walk the links and explain it as they went. See the sheet for a full description. The idea that all the issues can be linked leads to the idea of root causes. Imagine if you could fix one problem and fix most of the world’s problems all at once? Cause and Effect with playground chalk

Of course, not quite that simple as the root causes are things like increasing population and standard of living. But then, there is always education which I’m thinking could get people thinking about what policies they would want to vote for and what they will choose to consume. I don’t mean to sound flippant, but I’m really aware of not proseletizing and not depressing them to cynicism (or depression) in middle school. That’s it’s own balancing act that you have to figure out for your particular population and classroom.

And now it’s time for the dreaded ‘Research Report’. 9. Research Report w space and helpDay 1 was for introduction to the exact expectations as laid out in the document. (Then adjusted it to the more effective version I’m enclosing here.) But instead of just having them do it at home, we scheduled 4 days of class time, so we can circulate, offer help, encourage and give individual help.

We reduced the requirements a bit for some of our special ed students, and expanded it a bit for our big thinkers. Started each class with re-orientation for where we were on the timeline to due date, tips to clarify the next prompt, and a little inspiration from the newspaper or a video clip.

We also had some outside projects on the go so students had some choice within class – sounds like chaos but actually the reverse. And finally, we hit pay dirt: engaged students using the iPads, taking science to each other for the most part. Really intellectually interesting for me too, as well as a sweet time to feel the fizz of their emerging idealism. It’s like weaving lace, balancing the urgency of environmental issues with the smallness of their actions, their hope, playfulness and wish to find their place and purpose in the world. I took a picture just to remind myself in the nursing home, how happy I was to just be there with them in class on a so-called ordinary Friday afternoon.

The Deadline and Grading the )*&^)*&^ thing…

So the quantity of work was like 2 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. The quality was overall, better than usual – the new CC ELA curriculum is clearly transferring to science writing. And clearly, the in-class, individual help paid off for some students. But still many kids do not read the prompts and help carefully. Confusion about the relationship between the greenhouse effect, global warming, climate change and *sigh* the ozone hole. 9. Help for research rept gw explained

Here are a few tips for surviving the report-grading experience:

1. Have kids staple stuff in the order you want it.

2. Grade ONE prompt at a time per class. Keeps you consistent and is less mentally tiring than grading one whole report at a time.

3. Take a moment to mentally predict what you expect to see, what you are looking for. Then grade about 4. Pause. Regroup. Repeat.

4. Break it into a few sessions, not one huge one, set student expectations accordingly. But don’t leave it too long or they will forget what they wrote and it’s just an exercise in points. This is to underpin their ad campaign so they need it back to start the next piece of the project.

5. Keep a blank report to write notes of common misunderstandings etc. to share with them when you hand them back. Then project them and go over it quickly.

6. On hand-back, schedule some seat work so kids with questions and concerns can talk with you and get any issues resolved quickly.



Entry filed under: Critical Thinking, Environmental Education, Project Based Learning, Research Skills, TAP Curriculum, Uncategorized.

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