The Many Ways to Research

My class has been absorbed in the Finding Out phase of our inquiry into light and sound.  We began by asking some questions, sorting them into categories, and then each choosing a questions that we would research.


While we are doing our inquiry into light and sound, we are doing an inquiry into inquiry.  Part of this is discovering how we research.  We brainstormed a list of methods of research.  We put them into a googledoc, and we put our initial thoughts down about the pros and cons of each.  Then, we chose a question and a research method that we would use.  The only catch, we could only use one method.  If you decided to research with books, you were bound to only the books we had present.  If you chose wikipedia, you had to only use wikipedia.


The Research

Before we started, we agreed on some criteria for our notes:

- they had to be organized
- they had to be in our own words
- they had to have pictures and words
- they had to focus on the main point
- they had to be easy to understand so anybody could read it

I set them off with their questions, headphones, piles of books, and iPads.  They struggled and soared.  Some of them had chosen a perfect method for their question and could easily find the answer.  Others really struggled with finding any information.  I spoke with students who were struggling and they mentioned that the method they had chosen was ineffective and inefficient.  I asked them to share their thoughts on this with the class.  We took a short break from research to orient attention to how we were researching.  Quick, simple, and collective.  I have been doing this a lot recently, part of trying to create a culture of reflection and self-awareness.

**There are some kids in my class who get really annoyed when I do this.  They are absorbed in their work, and then I keep calling them away to talk about matters of meta-cognition.  Some of them love it, others cringe.**

While the ideas were fresh in our heads, I had them go back into the gDoc and update the information for their method.  We got really authentic reflections, as the ideas were relevant and real.  After we reflected on the researching with one method, we opened it up and they were allowed to us multiple methods (often at the same time).  I have a great picture of a student sitting at a desktop computer with an open book on her lap and an iPad next to her.  

What amazed me the most during this was the sharing that was going on.  One student would tell another of a great site they found, or a page they saw in a book, or a video they watched.  They knew what everyone else was doing, and they were listening in the background of their work.  For an individual research project, it was surprisingly noisy.

After an hour or so, I had them make one more trip to the gDoc to make some more notes about what they thought.  Finally, I collected all of their work.  That night I looked through the notes and gave guidance on what to do.  Looking through the notes, I was able to see what students were struggling with what aspects of note-taking.  

For some, it was organization issues.  I suggested some frameworks to re-organize their ideas.  

For others, they were focusing on the wrong main idea.  I found a good website and emailed it to them.

For a few, the information was very text heavy.  I gave some search terms and told them to look on Google Images for something to draw.

The next day, they had an hour or so to look into the changes I suggested and clean up their page of notes.  In the end, I was very pleased with how much information they found, and the quality of that information.  Some pages were overwhelming.  They were filled with tons of facts and diagrams that won't be necessary, but that is okay!  The process of sorting and organizing is next.....  

We also had one more crack at the gDoc, just to add in any last minute thoughts before the big surprise....

The Big Surprise

After we finished up our one page (or maybe two) summary of our research notes, we got started with how to present it.  For this, the kids needed to determine what was the most important information, and what was less important.  They were told they had to design a one page answer to their question in a joint google presentation.


They would have to use somebody else's notes, and design a page for somebody else's question.

You could hear the groans from upstairs I imagine.  I listened as closely as I could to their concerns, all of which were valid and true.

"But we worked so hard on these notes and now we give it away."
"Why did I spend so much time if somebody else is going to use it?"
"They won't understand what I meant."
"They might not get our pictures, or the words we used."

I explained that the reason we were doing this was multi-faceted:
  • when working with other people, sometimes you have to try and translate their words into yours
  • this is the same process you were doing where you took information out of books and websites
  • it is going to assess how well you made notes that followed our agreed on criteria
  • it will tell you how well you focused on the main idea
  • this will challenge you to think
They accepted the challenge, reluctantly, with hesitation and a little bit of resentment.  I was not swayed by their protest.  I understood their point of view, but I told them that I think this is a great learning opportunity.  Some of my students, the ones who have really jumped on the Growth Mindset idea, saw it as a great opportunity.  Others, did not.  It made me think of my role as a teacher.  Am I their friend?  Or am I here to challenge them to think?  Certainly, the latter.  I honestly felt bad that it upset them, but at the same time I hoped they would see it from my side as well.  I believe in a democratic classroom, where the kids have voices and control over their learning.  However, at the same time it is not always that easy, and sometimes the top-down voice of the teacher takes precedent.... but even still, it made me feel uneasy to go ahead when so many of them were against it. 

After an initial 15 minutes of fiddling about with the look of their page, they started to get into a rhythm. 

(I think this is an important point that often gets ignored.  I can't tell you how many times that teachers have told kids to ignore the formatting until the end.  I am guilty of it all the time.  Yet.....)

They began to communicate with each other, ask each other for clarification, and engage in conversation.  Some were defensive of their work, not open to criticism from others, while others were able to see how it might not have been clear.  Clarity of ideas was one of the skills we were focusing on, so this was a place where I could give instant feedback and ask for instant reflection.  My role during this process was simply to get kids to think about how they took notes, and what they could have done to improve.  I must say, it felt really nice to be freed from the content, and only focus on the thinking skills.....

How this helped me with our Finding Out

This whole project acted as a way to inquire into inquiry and research, but it also let me do some more Tuning in.  By reading all of the pages, they were able to get a bigger picture understanding of Light and Sound.  At the same time (from a content/concepts perspective), I could see that they needed comprehension on vocabulary terms, and we needed to understand concepts like refracting, bending, transparent, etc.  They have the basic shell of these ideas, but we need more direct focus.  This project has led me to plan a learning centers day, where the kids will rotate through a series of very simple experiments, in the hope that they can pull it all together and find the connections..... the Finding Out will continue for a couple more days.


  1. The stepping in and stepping back while you are teaching is so well communicated. We are about to plan a unit on the inquiry process and your thoughtful post will be a great resource.

  2. In class we refer to it as Zooming in and Zooming out. Very powerful, not something they notice easily on their own...

  3. Craig - I really like this. We are focusing in class at the moment to ensure teachers are taking the time to explicitly teach the 5 elements and taking time to step out of the unit to do so if needed. My Kindergarten grade level are hosting an 'all change day' to focus on the concept of change with our 5year olds. Some of the 'changes' planned that day are associated directly with the UOI and some - such as changing classrooms, where we read our books, the chinese language teachers are not. We are excited to get the teachers thinking outside the box to try and introduce more of the specific language involved in the Units. However - I love your idea of taking time to focus on the stage of inquiry - and brainstorming what this may look like, sound like, feel like. I recently surveyed G4 & G5 students in preparation for evaluation and was quite shocked to find not one reference to inquiry, inquiry learning or the inquiry cycle - quite disheartening - but it did provide a wake up call. I will add this to my to-do lists for our teachers. They are going to think I am on steroids....with all of this explicit teaching of concepts, LP, attitudes and skills...and now language of inquiry...I wonder where and when the content / knowledge happens?? :) Thanks again for sharing - Tania


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