The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Independent Research

For several weeks, my students have been working on their first independent research projects. The projects are based on one of our science standards, which focuses on living things. Following the success of last year’s research project, the students each selected an animal to learn about. They identified the inquiry questions, which I then put together in four groups: characteristics, ecosystem, food web, and other interesting facts. I also provided a grading rubric that identified four key areas of writing: organisation, quality, mechanics, and diagrams/illustrations.

We worked in the computer lab once a week, students researched books we had in the classroom in the morning and before lunch each day, and were encouraged to work at home or at the Urbana Free Library. They were given three weeks to work, with a due date set for today. Nearly all of the students turned in their reports today, although there are still some I am waiting on and hope to have turned in on Tuesday (since there is no school on Monday).

After collecting the reports today, I gave students the opportunity to share their reports with their classmates, but this was not made mandatory. I had shuffled the reports and just went through the pile. Most of the boys and girls were excited to share what they had learned with their classmates. The reports were varied, both in terms of writing, presentation, and content. Some of the animals we heard about today were nudibranchs (a type of sea slug), North American gray wolves, dogs, horses, platypuses, orcas, and great white sharks. Before sharing, we discussed what good audiences do: listen to the speaker, look at the speaker, sit with bodies still, hands free, and voices silent. While I needed to give a few reminders towards the end of the day, the class generally did a great job listening respectfully and encouraging those who were standing in front of a large group and sharing their research.

My class this year is definitely a group that does very well working independently! While they, like pretty much every elementary class everywhere does, often ask if they can work in groups, I have found that they tend to do much better when they work on their own. Which means, of course, that I need to take time to teach them how to work cooperatively.


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