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

Short Research Projects

As we now enter the final weeks of school, I have been building more and more group projects into my classroom. In collaboration with my fourth grade teaching partner and our building’s instructional coach, I’ve planned a unit of study on Westward Expansion that is going to include group research projects. We have also been working on improving our Internet research skills.

Today I wanted to get my students to recognise that research doesn’t always have to be a long, intensive project. Most of the research we do on the Internet these days is short. We are usually looking for a quick answer to a quick question. Of course, these quick questions often lead us to follow-up questions. I love when one question leads to another which leads to another and all of a sudden I find that what I thought would be a three to five minute query turns into an hour-long search that is exposing me to all sorts of concepts and ideas I didn’t even know existed! (Uh oh! I think I just admitted that I don’t actually know everything!)

I wanted today’s research project today to relate to our science unit on weather and the water cycle. I started by asking the students to think about different weather events, like dense fog. Some of the events they listed were rain, snow, hail, tornadoes, hurricanes, dust devils, water spouts, flash floods, and thunder and lightning. I gave the students fifteen minutes to form groups of three and research one of the listed events. They were allowed to use the tablets and search Internet sites. Many remembered the strategy from last week and added “fourth grade” to their searches.

They were all amazed at how much information they could find in just fifteen minutes! After the allotted time was up, I had each group share what they had learned. Then the other students were able to ask questions. We ended the short research projects by thinking of other questions we still had about our topics. Each group came up with something they still wanted to know about their topics.

This was a great way for the students to get used to actually generating questions about a single topic and then finding an answer. They also learned that finding answers online doesn’t have to take hours or days; they can find the answers in just a few minutes! It will be interesting to see what happens tomorrow when we are in the computer lab and starting research on the different trails taken to settle the American West!


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