Read from the beginning: Setting the Stage
Go to part 3: Developing a Script
Before students could create their videos, they had to conduct research into their topic. I don’t have a core text for this unit, so all of their information will come from internet resources. However, I know better than to just let them start Googling without a plan. My first consideration was to determine how much support I would give them during this phase. It occurred to me that the most challenging part of research is actually developing a robust list of search terms. Rather than have the students brainstorm options in a group, I decided that this would be the best place for me to provide some direct instruction.
My biggest challenge was to demonstrate to the students that taking the time to develop a list of search terms in advance would be clearly more effective than simply Googling their research question and hoping for the best…the default strategy of the majority of middle school students.
Before students came in for the day, I created a list of key words for each of the research questions. In addition, a created a general list of key words (e.g., timeline, trends, cause, effect, etc.) to use for any topic.
Preparing for Research:
Students use their key word list to make a series of search terms. A search term is comprised of three or more words from the list. Ideally a search term will have words from both the left column (topic specific) and the right column (general relationships). Also, they should generally also include “China” as one of their terms.
I modeled this idea with a sample list for a China topic that was not in use by any group, in this case “What are the pros and cons of the Three Gorges Dam”
- I passed out copies of the Three Gorges key terms and asked students to give make up a random search term by picking a few words from either column on the list. My computer was projected onto the main view screen for the class. As students called out search terms, I just put them into to Google to see what would come up.
Sample search terms:
- Three Gorges Dam, Geography, Yangtze River, Controversy
- China, Three Gorges Dam, Key People
- Three Gorges Dam, Culture, Change Over Time
- Three Gorges Dam, Trends, Map
- The results? There were a few websites that appeared on multiple searches, but by and large each search term came back with different hits. There were easily two or three viable websites from the first page of each search term, and quite often Wikipedia was NOT the first website on the list.
Because this is was a group project, I asked students to take a few minutes to consult with their group to make sure that each person had a unique list of search terms. This way they would be less likely to “step on each others toes” when compiling their results.
Students were not allowed to open their laptops until everyone in their group completed their search term list.
The last preparatory step was to create a collaborative workspace. I asked one student in each group to create a Google document to share with myself and each member of the group.
Students were given three days to complete the individual research component of their project.
- They each needed to create a list of 5-6 high quality websites for their topic. Of those, they would then select a top three to compile into a group bibliography of 10-12 websites.
- Finally, they had to develop a list of ten facts from their top three websites. A “fact” was defined as “A high quality, 3-5 sentence statement WRITTEN IN YOUR OWN WORDS including concepts like “most important” “cause-effect” “change over time” “compare-contrast”, etc.”
After reviewing the pages from the first session, I quickly realized that I need to create a sample page to help students organize their work. I posted the link to this page on the top of their group page so they could reference as needed. However, even with a direct model, some groups needed a lot of daily guidance on how to keep their page organized.
This phase went quite smoothly. I think the structure that I provided at the front end really helped the groups to conduct productive and fairly efficient internet research. In general, the groups worked well together. My key role was to help students organize their group page, and clarify their requirements. As I was circulating, it was really cool to eavesdrop on their conversations as they delved deeper into their topics. There were about five students that needed extra time to complete their individual research. It won’t necessarily impact the grade on the quality of their research, but it is likely that they will get some negative feedback on their peer evaluations at the end of the project.
Go to part 3: Developing a Script
How do you structure research projects for your class? Tell me about it in a comment!