My 4th grade students are studying Florida and its history in social studies class this year. Their teacher, Michelle Lewis, asked me to introduce them to digital resources related to the subject. Here in Florida, the Florida Electronic Library (funded by the State) makes available free to all its citizens a variety of electronic resources, including a Florida History database. After a brief introduction, I let the kids explore this resource via a scavenger hunt. They had so much fun with this that I decided to expand this project to a mini-research unit. Key elements of the mini-research unit are researching facts on two states, synthesizing information into a short written report, and creating a final digital report.
To facilitate the exercise I replicated the model report laid out in Liz Allen’s Research Without Copying presentation (2009)–a fabulous compilation of research presentation ideas, some of which are adapted from Nancy Polette’s book by the same title, challenging students to think critically about what they read and then synthesize the information learned in a variety of creative ways. Its a higher-level type of engagement with the material that ensures students better retain the information.
So on their next visit to the library, I introduced my students to the If…But Report. The idea was for them to research two different states, compile four facts for each state, and then compare and contrast the states in a one-page report, consisting of a written portion and a non-linguistic representation of the facts.
The students scoured three pre-selected websites (kids.usa.gov, factmonster.com, and 50states.com) as well as the Kids InfoBits database for information. They were to find something interesting from each source and record the information on a graphic organizer.
Using a template, students drafted their reports. In a mini-lesson, we looked more closely at some student’s writing to discuss mainly style. For example, one student listed the state name in every sentence. Is this necessary? Is it interesting? Another student used big numbers to express the populations of his states. What would be a better way to tell the reader?
Using Pixie for iPad app students created their reports, which had to include a written portion as well as a non-linguistic representation of the facts gathered for each state. Even though I had originally planned three 40-minute sessions for this quick research and report project, it took five sessions. It was harder for some students than others to retrieve interesting facts from the sources. Also, the report writing was easier for some than others. All students, however, quickly created their reports using the Pixie app.
My students know that I expect quality work, so as a final step, they had to use a checklist. Those students who finished early, also had to write a brief reflection on their student blogs.
Here are some of the wonderful examples of the final product.