11. Research Projects (3-12)
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Much of the research done in school is topical in nature. Students are asked to "go find out about" a certain person, place, event or topic. The main skill involved is the gathering of information. Students who have been taught to ask questions can use them to accomplish this immediate assignment and to lay the groundwork for doing research which begins with a question. The "go find out about it" research project can begin with students asking questions. Ask them: "What questions can you ask about how to do this assignment?" They may ask such things as:
Notice that these kinds of questions lead students to develop a plan based on a clarification of their goals and what they know about available resources. The essence of this type of research assignment is finding enough information to give a general description. "A" papers hit all the high points on the topic, are well-organized and well-written. Every student can be guided by the questions which produce a quality description if we give them the questioning tools.
A more meaningful, curiosity driven version of the research project begins with student questions. Students should be able to guide research. The teacher can require types of questions which cannot be answered directly from a book. For example, if a student asks, "Which Canadian general was the best?" the gathering of information eventually leads to a student judgment based upon criteria. This evaluation task involves the student seeking information for the purpose of answering a question he or she posed, a very lifelike and lifelong activity. Instead of an assignment in a High School Health class to "go find out about a topic in human sexuality," students discuss dilemmas in human sexuality such as parenting, birth control and parent/teen conflict. Their research paper assignment is to choose a dilemma to address in detail, presenting both sides of the issue and drawing a personal conclusion. Under the careful guidance of a teacher and with support for answering questions they care about, research papers can become a source of great satisfaction to students.