Whether it is in the primary or secondary classroom, conducting a successful research activity for our students depends on the way that we manage the various elements of research in our classes. This begins by creating tasks that are open-ended, introducing research skills in a staged, organised manner and providing them with the resources to properly use and reference the material that they gather in their research.
Framing the task
When writing the task, consider if the questions that you are asking have one, correct answer. If so, you might be creating a ‘copy and paste’ assignment where students have no alternative but to grab the information somewhere and then repeat it verbatim in their final piece. To avoid this, ask questions that the internet doesn’t have a ready answer for.
Being asked to find Captain Cook’s date of birth, for example, doesn’t ask us to work with the information that we are gathering whereas asking us to compare Captain Cook’s date of birth to that of other explorers allows us to consider whether Cook was born during an earlier (or later) period than other explorers; and, whether he was older (or younger) than other explorers during the time that he completed the work for which he was renowned.
Using Bloom’s Taxonomy when writing a task can help to frame questions that allow for various levels of interpretation of the information for which the student is searching. There are many sites around that include, not just Bloom’s Taxonomy, but also lists of questions that relate to each level in it (like this one).
Carrying out the research
Once you have created the task, consider how you are going to address the teaching of research skills throughout the completion of it. Various research skills systems have been created and most of these use a six-stage process. These go something like: define the task, locate the information, select the resources, organise the information you have gathered, present your work and then carry out some sort of evaluation. The Ergo site, run by the State Library of Victoria, has this process neatly mapped out here.
Define the task
During the defining stage, it might help the students to do some brainstorming. The PCs at the school have a brainstorming program on them called Inspiration. If you want to use something else (that the students can use at home without the program), try Bubbl.us.
Locate the information
The most common places that students will go to for their research are Google and Wikipedia. If you have carefully written your task (see Framing the Task above), this will not be a problem as most of the work will be done in their heads on interpreting the information that they find. You might like to set parameters, however, that include finding evidence from particular types of sites (.gov), finding information from a specific number of sources, using primary and secondary sources of information or asking the students to find conflicting information and decide which they agree with.
In order to carry out targeted searches using Google, they can use this page which contains some Google basics and this one for some more advanced stuff. For the more visual of us, check out these two videos.
If you want to send the students to a site that organises information by topic, try the Digital Librarian.
This stage usually happens at the same time as the previous one as students appraise the resources as they find them. It is important that the students undertake some critical analysis on the sources they are using. One of the many evaluation techniques is Radcab which can be used to evaluate whether the sources that they have found are any good. It’s a vehicle (tehehe) for source evaluation.
Organising the information
The most important part of this stage is to ensure that the students have transformed the information that they have gathered. Once again, if you have framed the question well, this will not be a problem.
Another important element of this is ensuring that the sources used are properly referenced. The school has subscribed to an online reference generator that can be accessed from the library tab in eWS.
Consider non-paper ways for the students to submit work as this will allow them to more easily integrate multimedia into their assignments. Also, aim to give them a few, limited options for the way that they can present their assignments – giving them open slather won’t give you time to teach them how to create the presentation (this is how you do it in PowerPoint, this is how you do it with Movie Maker…) and will ensure that they fall back on what they already know.
Get the students to reflect on the work that they have created or evaluate the work of others by publishing the work online and calling for comments. You can also create a survey (either using the quiz tool in eWS or on SurveyMonkey) where the students can participate in some self-reflection.