Today's class was dedicated to selecting a research topic and developing a research question. I reserved the computer lab and distributed the handout when we got there. I told students that I would call on them at random (using ClassDojo, an iPad app, but popsicle sticks or slips of paper work, too) and they could choose a general topic from the list provided for research. The only rule was that only two people could do a given topic. (My classes are ~28, so with 20 topics, I am assured some variety.)
I encouraged students to choose topics that actually fall under their areas of interest, explaining that the "easiest" topic is the one that you actually care about.
This process went pretty smoothly, with only a few grumbles from people whose topics were chosen by others before their names were called.
Once the students had topics, I directed them to start doing some PRE-search to see what kind of information was out there. After they browsed and read a bit about their topic, they could then submit a research question for approval.
After the students chose their topics, they were supposed to spend the rest of the period looking at information and developing a question. Because many topics were being researched by two students, I explained to students that their research questions had to be different.
The next half hour was pretty interesting.
Even though I had spent some time explaining the assignment and talking about good research questions, some students instantly came up with questions like..."Was food during the Elizabethan Era healthy?" Considering that the final assignment involves an annotated bibliography with 6-10 sources, a visual, and a presentation, one would think that a student would want to spend time THINKING about the question. But, well, let's just say that not everyone took that approach.
Some students took their time and thought carefully about which direction they wanted to go. Others came up to me with so many silly questions that I felt like I was playing Whac-A-Mole. And one student cried because she couldn't think of a question.
By the end of class, everyone had an approved research question, mostly because I had to practically write half of the questions myself. It was not a shining moment in education.
Have you ever had a great idea for a project and then, after you started it, wished that you could rewind the whole day and start again SKIPPING THE PART ABOUT THE PROJECT? Well, that was today.
Deep breath. Tomorrow we are doing more research.