Wednesday, January 28, 2015

January Post – Jessica

Our inquiry group is the Research Rats. We are focusing our work around the first two stages of inquiry: Immerse and Investigate. Our overarching question is, “What are the skills necessary for students to conduct successful research during inquiry?” To help us answer this question, we are going to familiarize ourselves with Symbaloo,  a space for teachers and students to add relevant sources. After recently feeling the roller coaster ride of inquiry, I’m hoping this work will streamline the process for my novice yet eager researchers.

Last Friday, I brought student film documentaries to share with the staff. I included on student example below. In class, we recently wrapped up an inquiry unit exploring the role of government in our community. Their goal was to tell a story that demonstrated how a policy, law, or action by either the executive, legislative, or judicial branch has affected them or their community. Using the chalk talk protocol, we generated a list of 25 topics students were interested in, and groups chose within those ideas. With parent permission, they chose from a wide range of laws, including: No Camping Ban in Denver, Amendment 64, Texting and Driving, Dangerous Dog Law, Animal Cruelty Law, Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage, Trash/Littering Laws, and the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act. During the two month inquiry, students self-directed their research, set-up interviews with adults, created storyboards, wrote scripts, led filming and voiceovers, and edited their documentaries using WeVideo, a Google app they were able to download onto the Chromebooks. 

I am so proud of their works, and they were truly engaged throughout the whole process, but we did hit some speed bumps along the way. After debriefing as a class, we all agreed that the research phase was one of frustration and trial and error. They brought up some valid points that truly made me rethink and understand the research stage of immersion and investigating.

In many ways, I want my students to be savvy researchers and understand how to navigate the black hole that is the internet. At the click of a button, they are able to access thousands of resources in a variety of formats: videos, photographs, infographics, articles, graphs/charts, blogs, encyclopedias, ect, ect. It is truly a gift and a curse for their generation. It’s at this point that I have to take a deep breath, step back, and focus on the essentials they need to feel successful. Some of the guiding questions that emerged during our mini-lessons included:
  • How do I narrow the focus of my research question so I can narrow my key word searches?
  •  How do I determine the most important sources?
  •  How do I know if my source is credible? How can I verify the information?
  • How can I diversify my sources, so I am not relying on one source type? (They love videos!)
  • How do I find sources that are appropriate for my reading and maturity level?
  • What email and phone etiquette do I need to understand and practice before contacting an adult for an interview?

In some cases, students groups that had prior research experience were able to tackle these questions and tasks appropriately. But in most cases, it was an overwhelming feat in which I had to jump in and admittedly “rescue” them. At the time, I knew we had a deadline to submit our films to the CSPAN competition, so I only allotted 2 weeks for this process. In hindsight, I would have stretched the time out longer. I know inquiry is a slow process, but I often forget how slow, and it varies depending on the topic. During our debrief, students also mentioned their need to break the research up into small chunks each day. When we immersed ourselves into full days of research, they expressed they were overwhelmed and started to shut down because the research was challenging and they needed to process it at a slower pace. To keep them engaged, we concluded that they needed a singular goal and no more than a 45-60 minute time slot to achieve that goal. Anymore, and they were quickly checking out.

Moving forward, I am struggling with the question: How can I slow down the process to honor their needs as researchers, but also create a reasonable time frame around the each stage? We could spend a whole trimester or even the full year researching one question!  To explore this idea further, I am going to take their feedback and the Symbaloo site to add new guiding questions to our upcoming unit. Just as a brain dump of ideas, our new mini-lesson questions may include:
  • What research goal or task do you want to achieve today? How does this goal support your long-term needs?
  • What is Symballo? How do we navigate it as a resource for our inquiry question?
  • Which source is the most important for your work today? How can we deeply understand one source?
  • What smaller questions stem from your overarching question? Today we are going to focus on finding the answer to one smaller question.
  • How is it going? What are you doing well? Where are do we need to problem solve?


  1. Jessica,

    Thanks for your honest assessment of your work thus far. I also struggle with the amount of time I give fourth graders to immerse in research. On the one hand, they begin to shut down if I give them too much time, on the other, they sometimes respond really well when I give them a big chunk of time to work. I think I struggle more with the differentiation. We just began the immersion process yesterday and I have students who say they are done. I struggle with the nuances of pushing kids to think more deeply and feeling successful with the completion of their inquiry.

  2. Dear Jessica, your post resonates with my current journey of inquiry. "Roller coaster ride" pretty much captures it. One day I feel like my students are fully engaged, have adequate resources, are motivated by their own interests, and have the skills required to achieve successful learning. The next day, we are all in different directions and accomplishing very little. I believe in the value of inquiry and continue to discover routines that works for our class, but it is definitely a "roller coaster ride"!

  3. Jessica, we've just begun to touch on the mechanics of research, from how much support to give kids to teaching them to identify high-quality sources. In order to make inquiry truly valuable, students need to be able to find information quickly and then evaluate the authenticity. I'm looking forward to continuing our work with the Research Rats.