Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Reformation of Research

It was just about six weeks ago that the entire fourth grade in my school embarked on their first major research project of the school year.  The entire learning structure was designed to offer specific learning opportunities for children throughout the project.  Planning and preparation was time consuming at the start, there was constant guidance and remediated instruction occurring during the weeks of research and investigation, and there needed to be a final evaluation measure for end products.  But at least three constants maintained throughout the project: learning outcomes (goals); connected learning, inside and outside the school building; student responsibility for demonstration of learning.  And yes, I am talking about fourth graders.

The project was not a solo creation by any stretch of the imagination.  The fourth grade team worked together with support staff, administration, parents, resource teachers and students to develop a learning project that would capture interest and offer opportunities to learn in an individualized manner.  Was it abstract at the onset? A little, yes.  Did we have discussions and challenge ideas?  At times, yes.  Were there failures and discoveries? Of course, shouldn't all learning experiences have those?  It was a new kind of teaching and learning for some of the people involved but eventually it made sense and we were there to support each other and help one another through.  In the end, we all had the same goals in mind.

There were quite a few tools students used to develop and deliver a final project.  Here are some of the more valuable ones.  Google Docs - Drafting, revising, sharing, peer-editing, commenting, all made possible through Google Apps for education.  I also used Google Forms to create a basic survey for students to offer feedback about the project.  After all, some of the best ideas for student projects often come from students!  EasyBib - A simple, free-to-use citation tool that enabled 9 and 10 year old children to create bibliographies that could pass even the toughest teacher's reference standards.  Wordle - Basic "word-cloud" generator that allowed students to analyze their writing in a different way and offered a pretty nifty looking visual for their final projects.  Glogster for Education - this web-based multimedia poster platform was the perfect presentation tool.  Kids were able to organized linked or uploaded videos, pictures, sound files, and text in a way they wanted.  When it came time to share what they had learned, Glogster was all they needed.  (Okay, you're right, some of the kids still wanted to use notecards because public speaking is still nerve-wracking, even for some adults!)

The level of student ownership for learning is unlike any other activity we've done this year.  One of the most powerful motivators was the idea that one part of the project, their glogs, could be published to a global audience.  Students worked hard to create a product that they thought could be proud of.  See some examples for yourself!  Please rate them!  Kids will love the feedback and Glogster points!