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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Research with Fifth Grade: Research Resource Stations

On 03, Mar 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I have noticed two things about how research has been conducted at my school, particularly in Lower School. One is that it’s book heavy. This isn’t a bad thing by any means, but the kids will be expected to use a variety of sources in middle and high school and there’s some expectation that they will know how to work with databases and websites by the time they reach middle and high school (not a high expectation, but an expectation nonetheless).

The second thing I noticed is that the books are found by the librarian, pulled from the shelf and either put on a book truck or delivered to the classroom and into the kids hands. There is a lot of effort put into making sure there are nonfiction series that align with the project/topic to make it even easier. This happens across the school. I completely understand the thinking behind this and know it’s necessary to some extent, however I think it also robs the students of the opportunity of seeing that research can be a long and complicated process and that all the information you need will not be found in one book that is handed to you. I don’t advocate getting rid of this system, but I think the kids need to be involved in the process at various points and a balance needs to be struck where they can help find resources and sift through them, but also be handed resources that will have information they need in the interest of time and sanity.

Before simply setting the kids loose on websites, databases, and books for this particular project I wanted to give them some hands-on experience with them that didn’t have such high stakes as finding information that they would have to use. To this end I created four stations that had them work with a resource in a way that was tangential to their project.

Here is the basic break down of the period.

  • Video and run down
  • Stations (8-10 minutes each)
    • Book station
    • Wikipedia keyword station
    • Database station
    • Website evaluation station

Here is the link to a much more detailed version of what we did and what the stations were: Research Stations Lesson Plan

I tried to run the stations simultaneously, having the kids rotate every 8-10 minutes, but their knowledge and ability to work independently made this difficult. Next year I will have a short 3 minute intro to each station and will take them through that, then turn them loose in groups to do the activity while I circulate. This way there can be A LOT more hand holding. (This need will be particular to the school. If your kids have more experience with either independent work or with the resources they may be more capable of running through the stations the way we originally did.)

The whole day was intended to give them some exposure to the resources they would be using in the project, but also to give the teachers a sense of where the students were in their ability to use the resources. A few of them actually remembered using a database before, but no one actually knew much about them. Even using the index and table of contents in a book was hit or miss. Again this can be particular to a groups of kids, but it was eye opening to see how they functioned in a less controlled, less directed environment. I wish they had stronger skills, but I can see now where I need to build in support and practice to get them where I ultimately want them.

Finally, I walked the kids through the databases and talked to them about what is in them and we looked at features together, but ultimately I would like this to run a little more independently. I want some of the exploration to come from them and not me telling them “look here, click this”. I just don’t know how to do that yet.

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