I was really excited to be contacted by a teacher at Northlake Woods in June 2012, who was interested in having me come in and work with her students in the fall. It tied in nicely with the program focus that my team had been working on in the Spring of 2012. In fairness, I do know this teacher very well and we had talked about my working with her students. Hey, it’s all about networking, right?
The classes I was working with were part of the area enrichment program where students from grades 4-8 come to Northlake Woods for an entire day during a 6-day cycle. A big part of the area enrichment program is an independent study project that students work on throughout the year. The students and their teacher had been working on brainstorming topics and they wanted me to give them a tour of our Virtual Library and to provide some tips on generating effective questioning to guide their research, search terms and citation.
Originally I was scheduled to be there for the week of September 24 to give a tour of the resources on the Virtual Library and within the larger Learning Commons. However, after my work there, the teacher invited me to come back and help the students focus their topics and develop some effective search strategies.
1st Week: Virtual Library Tour
I had a different class each day- grades 4-8 so I had to tailor my tour of the Virtual Library for each specific grade.
Grade 4/5– In our tour of the VL we focused more on the general reference encyclopedia section and Student Link. Most of these students had a topic in mind but were still very much in the pre-search stage of their research, i.e., they didn’t know what they didn’t know. The challenge with using online resources with this age group is finding material that is easy to access and has a readability level that allows them to be able to work somewhat independently. We spent a lot of time in Grolier Online. I also had the students do a scavenger hunt exercise in the form of bingo sheet
Grade 6- We went with a similar format for the grade 6 students but we expanded a bit more of their tour. We spent a lot of time in the general reference encyclopedia section but we also spent more time in Student Link and it some started to explore some the online databases in the VL like Searchasaurus, Kids Infobits and and Kids Search. We looked at developing search terms to navigate these databases and how to search for different types of information, e.g., newspaper article vs. journal article.
Grade 7/8- Again, similar format to what I did with the other classes but we spent a little less time in the general reference encyclopedia section given their topics and the nature of their research topics. The grade 7 & 8 students tended to choose topics that had them to do background research on their topic but then required further exploration on points of view and additional types of sources to support their viewpoint. We spent a lot of time in Student Link and Canada in Context. We worked on developing effective search terms for their topics and narrowing their topic focus. With the grade 8s, I spent some time in Canadian Points of View (Found in the Secondary One-Stop) as it provided Pro/Con articles to support many of their research topics.
2nd Week: Formulating Questions
A big part of inquiry or research is developing those great questions that provide those authentic learning opportunities. When students generate the questions that guide their own research, they are much more likely to be engaged in the process instead of answering questions that their teachers have assigned based on a topic that has already been chosen for the students. The area enrichment teacher had spent a lot of time with all her classes on the Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono, so I tried to link back our work on questioning to the work she had done previously with her students. We also spent quite a bit of time looking at Thin vs Thick Questions in trying to focus our topics and what kinds of questions we really wanted to answer.
I think it was great start to their independent studies and I certainly enjoyed my time back in the classroom. What I really liked was being in on the project from the start instead of being asked to come in during the middle of the process. What was really great was that the area enrichment teacher I was working with, was co-planning with her Cambridge counterpart and had great a Google Doc outline their program and the resources they planned to use. They graciously invited me to contribute to the document which allowed me to continue “working” with the students long after I left the classroom.
Really, really positive start to the school year:)