Getting Ready to Research…step 2!

So the other day I blogged about choosing research topics with my students–and how I worked to find out how to create research teams that would work well together–and with topics the students are passionate about.  Miss it?  CLICK HERE to take you back to it.
Because we now have topics, it’s time to really dig in to the research process.  I am a huge believer in the gradual release model, so today’s lesson was all about my teacher modeling, then some guided practice, and then some “Try it yourself!” time.  As we work through this project, I will be doing each step along with them on a topic I have strategically chosen–the circulatory system.  We have studied the skeletal, muscular, and digestive systems, so I thought it was a perfect way to continue our human body studies AND tie in the literacy component.  
Each of my research teams has their “big” topic (their “watermelon” topic, their “main” topic…whatever you want to call it) and we now need to start to narrow it down to something manageable–yet accessible with our print and online resources.
I started by showing them this chart.  They helped me add in the red “subtopics” and I introduced our easy evaluation system.  After we brainstormed the list, I told them we would be using our circulatory system books to decide if we could find a LOT of support/details in the resources, some, or not much at all.  This would help us decide if the topics were feasible or not.
So after talking through a few examples, we worked together to generate more research questions that fit our smaller topics.
As we did this, I pointed out that some of our questions seemed to be a little bit limiting.  I had already explained to them that our “project” was going to be a 5 slide Google presentation–so I pointed out a few of our questions.
“How much blood do we have?”
“Does our heart grow?”
I asked them–do you think we could write a 5 page slide show to show our learning about this topic?  We all agreed that–no–some questions could be answered in one word or one sentence or with a number.  We talked about how those facts might be INCLUDED in a research project but that they, alone, probably weren’t research-worthy.
Our next step was to take some time to evaluate our brainstormed topics.  I had gathered all the circulatory system books in the library (and reminded them that sometimes we can find books just on the main topic, but we sometimes need to think outside the box too–I pulled books on the circulatory system but also found the heart, blood, and even just “human body” books because I knew that the circulatory system would be  part of that bigger book), pulled our the old science textbooks, found an article, and then I reviewed with the students how to “skim”.  I modeled how I would skim through the resources using our brainstormed topics as a “lens”–and our goal was to see if we thought our resources could help us learn about those topics.  I reminded them that there ARE other resources we could use…websites, encyclopedia, and so on–but that we would use our print resources to give us a feel about whether or not our topic would be solid.
 After spending some time looking at the resources, we came back as a large group and discussed whether or not each topic seemed to have sufficient information to help us create quality projects.  We had some great discussions!
So, after going through these steps with them, I then sent them off to work with their research teams to try it together with THEIR topics!  First, they made webs and generated lists of questions.  After that, we grabbed our tubs of books (we had gone to the library earlier that day to use the online catalog to check out all the books we could to help us!), and practiced skimming to find the topics and to assign them their “grade”!  By the time we finished, groups had  pretty good idea of which topics would work–and which probably would not.  I loved being able to hear the language that I had modeled in our “shared” task being used as they worked with their teams.
The students are SUPER excited to have gotten started with the process–and I am confident that the gradual release model is THE best way to help students navigate these complex tasks step by step.  Stay tuned for updates!