Nudging Toward Better Middle School Research

Hi again –

We’re trying to get a head start on this year’s “Nudging Toward Inquiry” columns, so here’s a request for your best tips about how you’re deepening your work with researchers in grades 6-8.

Here are some questions we have on our mind as we think about research with middle schoolers.

- As students approach age 13, the age at which they can legally build accounts on most Web sites, are there any organizational tools (e.g., Diigo, Dropbox, Evernote, Scoop.It, Google) that you teach? What is the impact?

- What databases or open Web sites do you use?

- How are you dividing kids into groups? Homogenously? Heterogeneously? Or do kids work alone? Why?

- How do you sustain student engagement with a topic if projects take multiple weeks to create?

- Do you do several short projects or a few long ones?

- What is the collaborative role between you and the teacher?

- At what point, if any, do you hand off the work to the teacher to finish in the classroom?

- How do you assess? What are you looking for?

- How do you deal with citation with this age group?

- How do students share what they’ve learned?

- How do you teach search to this age group?

We’d love to hear from you (and have a chance to get a few of these columns written before the busy school year begins!).

Thanks!

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One Response to “Nudging Toward Better Middle School Research”

  1. - What databases or open Web sites do you use?
    We use Grolier Online and World Book Online as these are provided for us.

    - How are you dividing kids into groups? Homogenously? Heterogeneously? Or do kids work alone? Why?
    I generally make this decision in collaboration with the classroom teacher. The 8th grade teachers I partner with tend to allow a choice. Students may choose a partner or work alone. This allows the student a level of comfort in completion of the project. I have also developed a collaborative research project with a 7th grade teacher that allowed for the choice of a partner, but then the pairs were joined with another pair to have a group of 4. These were a mix of homogenous and heterogeneous grouping based on student personalities.

    - How do you sustain student engagement with a topic if projects take multiple weeks to create?
    To be honest, this is something I always worry about, and yet it never ends up being a problem. Many of the research projects that are currently going on in our school have students excited about learning.

    - Do you do several short projects or a few long ones?
    The majority of my projects last three weeks or longer.

    - What is the collaborative role between you and the teacher?
    Generally, the teacher comes to me with an idea for a project. Together we spend time discussing ideas and outcomes. We usually meet weekly for approximately two to three months. During that time we divide tasks and make revisions as needed.

    - At what point, if any, do you hand off the work to the teacher to finish in the classroom?
    This is a sticky point for me. I want to be involved with these projects from beginning to end, but I am finding this to be increasingly difficult as the number of collaborative projects increases. Because so many of these are technology and research based, I feel it is important to stick with the teacher throughout the project. However, teachers I have worked with before will have to assume more responsibility in the coming year. For those teachers I will begin to pass off the day to day responsibilities, so that I can work with additional classes. For these projects, I will continue to be involved with instruction but less time will be spent during student work days. This way I can accommodate additional classes.

    - How do you assess? What are you looking for?
    Formative assessment is used throughout the project to ensure that students are on the right track. We are looking for accurate research, citations, and reputable sources. There is almost always a creative component to each research project, so we are also looking for a high level of synthesis on student projects.

    - How do you deal with citation with this age group?
    We expect students to have citations at this level. There is, of course, the anticipation that these citations will not be entirely accurate. No matter how much emphasis is placed on correct structure for citations, there continue to be issues. We encourage the use of resources such as EasyBib.

    - How do students share what they’ve learned?
    This varies by project. We have a museum like setting for one project, a research paper with an additional representation. The list goes on…..

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