Redefining Research

Sorry it’s been so long, nobody.  I’ve had ideas–just not the motivation to open up the ol’ WordPress.  I should really bookmark this site.

So I’m sitting in Panera (my dog is too cute for me to get any work done at home), and I’m making a list of goals for the upcoming school year.  I might blog about these goals soon, too, but this particular one sparked inspiration.  Here’s what I just wrote as a goal for my 9th Grade Lit classes this year:

“Do a much better job on research”

Last year’s research unit was particularly terrible.  I had a student-teacher.  We were running out of time.  I’ve got all sorts of excuses, but the bottom line is that my students left the unit no smarter than they were before.  Heartbreaking stuff.

But here’s what I just wrote immediately under my goal of doing a much better job on research this year:

“Requires redefining research in today’s world”

And I support that idea.  BUT…How can my research unit

  • make my kids more inquisitive?
  • teach my kids to see connections between multiple bits of information?
  • synthesize those connections into a meaningful, new creation of their own?

Wikipedia has already created a summary of Renaissance clothing, racism in the 1930’s South, Zeus, etc.  Making students do a project on this stuff without Wikipedia is like making them dig a hole without a shovel.  Where’s the value in inefficiency?

My biggest concern: how do I go beyond Wikipedia–not just because some teacher’s don’t like it–but because the project demands it?  Google and Wikipedia exist, so I have to realize a next step in what is typically considered “research” in the classroom.  For example:

Give students two completely unrelated topics and have them do research to find a chain of connections between the two.  Ken Jennings does this for Mental Floss magazine (marvel as he links Isaac Newton to Apple computers).  And I found another teacher who plays a similar Wikipedia link game.

It’s brilliant, really.  It’d require students to go down all sorts of paths, hit many dead-ends, but by the end of it, they’d have a beautiful summary about stuff they’ve never thought about before, including the crap my Odyssey, Shakespeare, whatever unit had to cover.

Thanks for reading while I figured this out.  Feels like I took care of a goal today.

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