In my time as a school librarian, I have had the unfortunate experience of teaching the traditional countries research project. Why? Because it was in the curriculum and I was working with a new teacher BGID (before guided inquiry design). And you know what? I hated it about as much as the kids did. The final product was the regurgitation of information which does not elicit smiles or excitement, but rather the slumped shoulder comments of, “are we doing this again”? I share this because we have all probably been there with a project. The type of assignment that we dread as much as the kids. And, as much as we try to revamp it, it is tough to totally drop the curricular requirements without being worried or feeling some sense of guilt for not “doing what we are supposed to do”.
Which brings me to the element of engagement! The sweet spot of excitement and learning. This instructional element is part of what makes Guided Inquiry Design so valuable for teachers and students. There are collaboration strategies and inquiry groups and reflection components which are integrated into the process and get our kids excited to be researching just about any topic. Even more important is the entire EXPLORE step. Providing students the opportunity to see what may exist in the realm of opportunity, engages and motivates students in a way that no list of topics can even touch. However, this valuable step is often the one that gets cut for time, because not all teachers see the value, when in reality it is, in my humble opinion, the most important part of the process. That is because it most closely mirrors the type of research which is being done in real life.
One of the ways I have worked with teachers to shift their thinking about the basic curricular report requirement is through the reimagining of the country project. Students traditionally would share mind numbing presentations about a country, listing facts about population, climate, language, religion, food, etc. Listening to over 100 of them was the motivation to change. This is where GID was a lifesaver!
The classroom teacher and I decided a change was needed, but how to make this relevant was the challenge. In the end, after several ideas bouncing around via email, we decided to go with a concept which aligned with what students were also studying in science, natural disasters. Students were now tasked with creating a recovery plan for a country which had experienced a hypothetical natural disaster. They were given the United Nations Development Program as a real life model and had to EXPLORE which countries were likely to experience certain disasters. Then they presented in teams at our mini-UN meeting to apply for funding to help this nation in need. The were rewarded (graded) in dollar amounts! In their planning and research, they had to learn about the culture, which was the original goal of the country report to begin with. But now, it was being done in a way with a real life connection, choice and collaboration which lead to students who were engaged and motivated to brainstorm solutions as a team.
The 6th grade social studies teachers and I have been working on this updated project for the last four years and it has made everyone happier and more willing to engage in what had been quite boring research previously. In changing our project not only is it more engaging, but it has also guided students to think more critically and to understand why knowing about a culture could be important in a real world context. We provided the opportunity to work in groups, not because it is fun, but because the timeline and requirements make it almost impossible to do alone. Engagement was just an added bonus of following the GID process to get our students to fully engage in a research process which extended their thinking beyond what was required in the curriculum.
Havre de Grace Middle School
Havre de Grace, Maryland
What are you doing in your instruction to engage students in research using the GID process?