I have been trying to figure out how to make our daily experience at school more like genius hour. In my science and history classes I have wanted to experiment with “researcher’s workshop.” I want to allow students to choose their topics, based on the essential concepts and skills in the Core, and then let them loose, exploring and researching topics of their choice.
My idea is different than a typical research paper. Students have always had some topic choice when they write a research paper. So, what was different about my new idea?
I asked my students to find a topic ala Carl Rogers, who said:
“I am talking about any learning in which the experience of the learner progresses along this line: ‘No, no, that’s not what I want’; ‘Wait! This is closer to what I am interested in, what I need’; ‘Ah, here it is! Now I’m grasping and comprehending what I need and what I want to know!’”
My request was simple: Don’t start your research until you get to that third point–”Ah, here it is!” Then enjoy asking and answering questions about that topic.
They were then given three hours to research their self-generated essential questions. Not three hours to write a research paper. Three hours to immerse themselves in the learning that they assured me they really wanted and needed to know. I had to keep reminding them to not start their final project yet. “Just learn now. Become an expert.” “You may change your mind later.” “The game you are planning may take an unexpected turn during your research phase.”
I was really pleased with the level of engagement. They watched History Channel DVDs, Learning 360 clips, and an occasional YouTube video, taking notes. They moved from website to website, noting the URLs of their sources. They read children and adult nonfiction. They noted the conflicting information between sources they were reading and viewing. And perhaps the best part? As they learned something amazing, they spontaneously told someone sitting near them. (Or the most enthusiastic told the whole class!)
As I watched them work, I realized most people aren’t often given time (or for adults, take time) to do research just because they are passionate about the topic. Oh, to be sure, we all do research. When we or a loved one have a stake in the learning. When knowing it will get us what we want. For instance, years ago, prior to a job interview, I looked at the web site of the school. It seemed to me, they were overly-interested in reciprocal teaching. It was new to me, so I read everything I could about it before the interview. I just knew it would come up, and it did. I do research sometimes to help myself or another person, but less often for the pure joy of learning. What I wanted for my students was joyful learning.
I told them the project at the end was less important than the research itself. I wanted them to have time to learn what they wanted to on a topic of interest. However, I did want them to use what they learned to be productive and creative (genius attributes), so there was a product due too. Some of the project ideas I floated:
a web site or wiki
a Fakebook page
a narrative or documentary movie
a poetry collection
a photographic essay
a Twitter account of a personality tweeting
an illustrated children’s book
One group made a slavery simulation that we participated in around the neighborhood.
As we finished this two-week unit and the presentations began, there was quite a variety. We had an iMovie with music created on Garage Band and a web page. We had a simulation activity, a board game, and a Fakebook page, which really showed her learning. There were two paper posters and one of my favorites, an animap of Sherman’s March to the Sea. In addition, there were several Google Presentations. For the most part, students were creative. I’m sorry to say, though, given the excellent experience with the research, I was a bit disappointed in the quality of some of the products. Some were exceptional, but many were mediocre. (Maybe part of that is the fact that school is out for summer in three days!)
The exciting part for me, though, is that I can honestly say during the research time, 100% of the students were engaged for the majority of the time.
In addition to the Social Studies standards we were working on, there were many English Language Arts Common Core Standards introduced or practiced:
RI.8.1. Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
RI.8.2. Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to supporting ideas; provide an objective summary of the text.
RI.8.8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; recognize when irrelevant evidence is introduced.
RI.8.9. Analyze a case in which two or more texts provide conflicting information on the same topic and identify where the texts disagree on matters of fact or interpretation.
W.8.6. Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas efficiently as well as to interact and collaborate with others.
W.8.7. Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
W.8.8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
W.8.9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
Apply grade 8 Reading standards to literary nonfiction (e.g., “Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; recognize when irrelevant evidence is introduced”).
Come with me to genius hour last week. Here is the scenario I came upon.
Two students and two computers – one working on an iMovie, one looking up information. On the iMovie, they were adding slides that asked interesting questions about Camaros. When I arrived, the question on the iMovie screen was: What is the Camaro’s body made of?
On the other computer, the “researcher” had typed in this question in a Google search: “What are car bodies made of?” He clicked on the first link and got to this site:
He began reading/summarizing aloud, “Car bodies ‘…are made out of sheet metal (steel)…’ Yep, they are made out of steel.” The iMovie guy began typing.
Hmmm…I saw many things wrong here, and I couldn’t stay quiet very long. When I saw that he didn’t even finish reading the first paragraph, I stepped in. “What else are they made of, according to this source?” I asked, pointing to the screen.
Based on that first paragraph, car bodies could be made of steel, aluminum, a variety of mixtures of those, carbon-fiber, or fiber glass.
I also pointed out the difference in the two questions on the two computers. One asked about Camaros and the other about cars in general. Do you know the answer to your question yet?
I stayed with them awhile, not wanting to stifle their enthusiasm, but I also wanted to see how they chose their sources, and which ones they liked. The way they were searching by question reminded me of the olden days when we used the then cutting-edge “Ask Jeeves” search engine. We would type in a question, and a nice butler would magically send you to the answer. (Now it’s at Ask.com)
Search engines and Q & A sites have continually developed over the past decade. The “answers” they give, as well as the pool of contributors doing the answering, have grown exponentially in that time. Maybe, I thought, I need to teach students a different way of searching than I used in the 90s.
Although it didn’t come up in a search for this question, another site they said they like to use is Answers.com. (Tell me, do people still think Wikipedia is an unreliable source?)
As I finished up with these boys, I was struck with some things I have not been paying enough attention to. I need to directly teach more about researching, especially online. In addition, I took away some more advice to self:
Teach critical reading. It’s more important now than ever.
Figure out how I decide if a site is reliable. And how do I teach that to seventh graders?
Encourage the good questioning that was going on, but help students learn to be unsatisfied with shallow answers plucked out of their reading.
This happened a week ago Wednesday. The same evening I participated in #geniushour chat, where I heard about something new: researcher’s workshop. I didn’t get the details, but I imagined that it was a cross between genius hour and an assigned research paper.
After seeing the Camaro research, and other similar researching events during genius hour and my science and history classes, I need to do more research and find out more about research workshop.
This week, we just finished an experimental version of the researcher’s workshop in history. (I’ll write about my attempt this week in a later post, but before they started I gave them the advice in the picture below.)
How do you teach researching?
Do you have any suggestions for what should be in a researcher’s workshop?
“I want to talk about learning. But not the lifeless, sterile, futile, quickly forgotten stuff that is crammed in to the mind of the poor helpless individual tied into his seat by ironclad bonds of conformity! I am talking about LEARNING — the insatiable curiosity that drives the adolescent boy to absorb everything he can see or hear or read about gasoline engines in order to improve the efficiency and speed of his ‘cruiser’. I am talking about the student who says, “I am discovering, drawing in from the outside, and making that which is drawn in a real part of me.” I am talking about any learning in which the experience of the learner progresses along this line: “No, no, that’s not what I want”; “Wait! This is closer to what I am interested in, what I need”; “Ah, here it is! Now I’m grasping and comprehending what I need and what I want to know!”
We are finishing up history class with an independent study. As students narrow their topics, I keep asking them to take the Carl Rogers’ test before they choose their topic:
No, no, that’s not what I want.
Wait! This is closer to what I am interested in, what I need.
Ah, here it is! Now I’m grasping and comprehending what I need and what I want to know!
My goal is to walk each one through the process so they get to #3 before they are satisfied with their topic!
Imagine if school was always lived in that #3 area–Ah, here it is! Now I’m learning what I want to know! What a great educational reform that would be! Can school be like this?
Thanks to those who took time to add to my Linoit about the benefits of your PLN. I love reading what people are saying! You can read and add to it here.
The Tagxedo word clouds below show at a glance what others are saying about the benefits of joining the conversation. I will be sharing the Linoit with a group of educators next month at the Iowa Reading Conference.
What benefits do you and your students get from being part of a PLN?
Again, I’d love for you to share your benefits here. Thanks again!
How have you benefited from joining the conversation?
Will you please help me? I will be leading a session at the Iowa Reading Conference next month. It is called “Joining the Conversation.” It will be a session to challenge teachers who have not yet joined the conversation occurring daily online through blogging, Twitter, and/or Flicker.
I am curious about what you have found personally valuable about joining the online educational conversation. I’d love to share your stories with the people who come to my session. Here is my “handout,” a work in progress.
In the past year or so, my joining this conversation has brought me great joy as I have received progressive PD opportunities, amiable friendships, and a renewed sense of calling. (The conversation that I joined has also provided outstanding learning opportunities for my students. However, most of this workshop will focus on the teacher’s involvement in the conversation.)
What benefits have you received from joining the conversation?
I’ve made a Linoit to which you can add your experiences through sticky notes, images, files, or links to blog posts and videos.
I’ve placed a separate topic in each corner of the Linoit, so you can tell us how one or more of the following have helped you join the conversation: blogging, Twitter, or Flickr. There is also a corner about the benefits your students have received as a result of your connections.
Thank you so much! I hope you can help. Just click on the image below and add a bit of your story!