Helping To Engage Your Child In Learning Through Research ProjectsBy Doris Murdoch, Madison County Central School – Media Specialist
Has this happened to you? Your child comes home from school and states that he/she has a report or project to do. The enthusiasm is there, but the child doesn’t know where to begin. Immediately, the child is thinking about the end result; this end result or product may be a poster, a PowerPoint slideshow; a model; or a written paper.
We, as parents, often envision the end result just as our children do rather than looking at the process, which is where most of the learning takes place. The final product is just the reward in the learning process. Before a project can be produced or completed, there are several steps that we, as parents and teachers, must engage the child in:
• immersion in the topic of research;
• organizing and coming up with a project plan;
• and gathering the facts or research.
After completing these steps, we are now ready to assist our child in the product of research or the final project. The formula for research given in this article is appropriate for grades 2-8.When you first hear about the project-research assignment, the parent may want to ask a few questions like:
“What class or subject is this for….science, social students, reading, etc.?”
“Did your teacher give you an outline or handout for the project?”
“Did the teacher give you a list of suggested topics?”
“Is the topic for the project in your textbook?”
“Are you reading a book in class about the topic?”
“Have you watched any videos/DVD’s at school about the topic?”
“Is this a group project?” If so, “Who is in your group?”
If the answer is no on these questions, then you may want to take the responsibility of helping your child come up with a topic. I suggest to my students to be different; don’t choose a topic that everybody else would choose.
To aid in coming up with a topic, immerse your child in the area of study in order to give them ideas to consider in the topic selection.
And now you ask, “How do I immerse my child?” Read books together on the subject. Watch a movie or TV documentary together on the subject. Sit down at a computer together and Google the subject from a home computer or a public library computer. Discuss and help your child narrow down the subject to a topic that is not too broad. For example, narrow “weather” down to the topic of “hurricanes;” instead of the topic of “solar system”, narrow down to the topic of “Mars.” Narrow the subject of “animals” down to the topic of “lions.” “African Americans” could be narrowed down to the topic of “Harriett Tubman”. The subject of “disasters” could be narrowed down to the “Challenger disaster.”
Once the topic of research has been established, help your child put a plan together for the project. Identify the due dates for the various stages of the project. Mark those dates on a home calendar. On that date, be sure your child turns in the required portion of the project.
Now that you have a plan for due dates, you and your child will need to make a plan for the research. Take the topic of research and identify three areas or subtopics for research. For example, if it is a biography of a person, the three subtopics might be childhood, young adult years, and adulthood.
A project on an animal might have the three subtopics of: description of the animal; diet or food; and habitat or home. I recommend organizing according to the criteria of the Florida Writes or FCAT Writing (introduction, three subtopics, and conclusion). If the child organizes this way, the final writing of the essay or report will flow smoothly. Once the subtopics are established, you and your child are ready to take notes from the research.
In school, a child is going to use a graphic organizer in taking notes. You may remember using an outline format or index cards in taking notes. A parent can use a similar technique. Take a sheet of paper and fold so there are three sections. Each section can be used for taking notes on the three subtopics.
If your child is advanced in computer skills, the same technique can be used on electronic paper in a word processing program. Remember, note-fatcs are words and phrases, not complete sentences. If the student takes notes in words and phrases, plagiarism or copying can be avoided. Requiring five to ten note-facts for each subtopic is recommended.
Now, you have a plan, so start the research and note-taking. As a teacher, I suggest that students use a book, an encyclopedia and the internet in doing research. Madison County Schools provide all students with an encyclopedia, www.worldbookonline.com (username mcresearch, password password). Books are available for checkout at the school library and the public library.
The public library also provides access to various online databases and public computers for internet usage. Once your child has the note-facts completed, he or she is ready to write a report or create their project, all depending on what the teacher has assigned.
The basic formula for the Florida Writes or FCAT Writing is five paragraphs with the first paragraph being an introductory paragraph, the next three paragraphs are subtopic paragraphs and the last paragraph is a conclusion paragraph. The introductory paragraph includes a main idea sentence and introduces the three subtopics to be discussed in the essay or report. Paragraph two discusses subtopic one; paragraph three discusses subtopic two; and paragraph four discusses subtopic three.
The final paragraph is the conclusion paragraph that brings the topic of research altogether. The final paragraph is a strong paragraph because it moves the reader to appreciate or remember the topic of research. This process is the same in all writing. As the writer matures, the subtopics increase in number and the writing structure and vocabulary become more advanced.
When students write and/or create projects from their own research, they develop ownership. They become creators of new knowledge. Engaged students and creators of new knowledge become energetic researchers and life-long learners.