I start by asking the students, "If you could be teacher for a day what would you teach?" - this gets varied responses from comical to serious!
I then push them closer to my objective by asking, "If you could research anything you wanted, what would you learn about?" I take various student comments and then agree that we all have different things that interest us.
I then tell students that I have heard their requests to have more control over what and how they learn so I am going to give them the opportunity to choose their own topic for a research project. In this project they will research, write and then present their information to the entire class. We will have the opportunity to learn 33 different topics and in the end all act as teachers by educating our friends in class. (I have 33 students but you may have a different number:)
Here is a video of where I am going with this unit and the timeline of the work
I share with students that they will get the chance today to investigate with the purpose of choosing a topic of their interest by the end of the lesson.
I share when we research our topics can be classified into three categories:
CHALLENGE/ ADVENTURE = this is when we are interested in trying a new activity that we have never done before. It is something that challenges you to learn with both your mind and your body - an exciting adventure! Some examples of this are learning how to surfing or row a boat, going hang gliding or zip lining, learning how to pitch a softball, or any of a number of fun activities.
PRACTICAL SKILL= is learning a new skill that you can use later in life. These are things you can learn from your parents, grandparents or other teachers at home or as a class you take at a business. It can be learning how to cook a family recipe, building a birdhouse, painting a picture, decorating a cake or even caring for a new pet.
LOGICAL INQUIRY = this is finding answers to a "I Wonder?" question you have or a topic you are wondering about and wanted to learn more about. This can be learning more about a person, place or thing in the present or the past such as a President, a famous building, a dinosaur, or even a sports star.
I share that first they should brainstorm and write down any topics that seem interesting in each category. Then they need to cross off ideas until they have it narrowed down to two or three choices. This is where I model thinking aloud about things I always wanted to learn about and write them on the board and then crossing off ones that are not my first choices until I have three ideas.
To help with this process I project ideas students from past years have completed on the board and take suggested topics from students for each category area
I ask students to brainstorm and write ideas they have on their whiteboards (2 - 3 min)
I then ask them to cross off some until they have 2-3 ideas they are really excited to learn more about (2-3 min) - You can have them share with friends at this point if you have time to build their excitement and help them narrow down their choices
Students move to the computer lab and students write their three topic choices on their worksheets (or you could use your library) and I instruct students that they will now get the opportunity to research a little about each of their three topics. Their purpose is to determine which topic would be the best for them to write and share about.
I do a quick share and tell students:
When I create lessons to teach in class I type in my research topic and then read through different webpages to find the one that is easiest for me to read and understand. Sometimes I can't find the information on the computer I want because its too confusing, too difficult to read or even to short and doesn't give enough facts - when this happens I usually change my research topic or find a better idea during my search that I think you will enjoy and learn from even more - and I change my lesson focus to a better topic.
I share that to choose their topics they need to think of three criteria before they decide which topic is the best to write about
1. - Are the pages easy to read and understand?
2. - Is there enough information on this topic?
3. - Am I more interested or less interested in the topic after reading about it?
(I had them write these on their notes/ white boards, but you could also post for these three criteria for them to reference)
Students research their topics using the internet (Google Search) to determine which has the most understandable and interesting facts.
They have the goal of choosing a topic and writing it down their final choice on their worksheets by the end of the period and to keep them focused I set at timer for 25 min.
I circulate and help struggling students identify good websites and determine the readability of websites and their levels of interest in their topics.
At the end of the period I ask them to complete the topic choice form and to take it home for parent signature. I feel that it is important for their parents to be aware of their topics not only so that they know what is happening in school but also so that they can assist with the information researching and the experience of the activity or skill.
Students who were unable to decide between two topics are asked to go home and share their topics with their parents and to narrow it down to one by the next day. (I do have them keep their second choice idea in their folders in case they run into difficulty in the first days of researching and need to change topics for some reason)
I close with asking students "How does researching help us learn?". We share together and I write down all the ideas they have so that I can share this with them on a poster above the computer area. This gives them reasons why they are working so hard when the typing or research gets hard for them. Always want to make it real!