Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Real-World Research Projects

When we did diagnostic testing at the beginning of the year, I found that most of my students came to me relatively prepared for the year's coursework in all but one area: research.

During our zombie unit, our media specialist and I introduced some of the basics of research in the Internet 2.0 era: web evaluation, understanding copyrights, and exactly how Wikipedia can show you sources without actually serving a source.

When we came back from winter break, we began our research work in earnest. First, we all chose dystopia books from a wide selection including I, Robot, Animal Farm, and Fahrenheit 451. After three weeks of literature circle activities including reading articles relating to themes in our books and in-class essays about how power is displayed in our books, we moved into the research part of our unit.

Students explored social issues inherent in their books such as class stratification in Brave New World or spying in 1984. They then looked through recent editions of the New York Times to find examples of these social issues at play in today's world.

With our media specialist, we conducted lessons on pre-outlines, databases, and, of course, Easy Bib. Students could choose from two possible products: a letter to a person with control over their issues or an editorial for the New York Times Student Editorial Contest. For students who had their editorial writing interrupted by our most recent snow storm, the student newspaper also offered the option to submit a guest editorial. At one point during the project, one of my students who struggles the most asked if we could just write a "regular" research paper because this one required so much work in deciding whom to address.

I wrote along side my students from start to finish, and I'm pretty proud of that fact. I've been trying to model our work for them from my very first days as a teacher, and I finally did it! I ended up writing a letter to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio about his pre-k initiative after considering how parental circumstances defined outcomes for kids in my book Gifts by Ursula le Guin.

I'll spend the rest of this week evaluating the students' work, but I can already tell you that Michael Rogers is getting quite a few letters from some citizens in Central Virginia who have a lot of ideas about why casting such a large spying net inside the US can lead to some pretty disastrous outcomes. I can't help but beam with pride that so many of my kids know who Michael Rogers is.

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