Monday, May 11, 2015

First Graders Can Conduct Research Too!

When I was in first grade and had computer class, we spent time playing games on our Apple II-E computers;  games such as Space Invaders, Monopoly, and my favorite, Mickey's Space Adventure.  Of course, our sessions were fun, but there was no carryover to what we were learning in our other classes.  Fortunately, times have changed.  Instead of students visiting the computer room, devices are used in their own classrooms so technology skills can be integrated in their learning to redefine instruction.  One of the strands that is taught is research.  Ordinarily, I think of research being taught in middle school.  However, this past year, I had the pleasure of working with the first grade teachers and students in my school to learn how to conduct research on a specific topic.

In a first grade classroom, the skills that are important to teach students include:
  • What is research?
  • Why do people research?
  • Using a website to learn about a topic.
  • Finding information about a topic on a website.
  • Communicating findings orally or in writing.
As I mentioned above, never in a million years would I expect first graders to know how to research topic using books or the Internet.  One class is researching the seven continents and the other two classes are researching animals.  At first, I had no idea how to help these teachers and students conduct research and report their findings.  The teachers grouped the students and each member of the group will be researching a subtopic of the main topic.  In order to be successful at this endeavor, I needed to accomplish the following tasks:
  • Find a tool that would enable the groups to collaborate and communicate with each other, as well as work independently
  • Find a tool that is child friendly and safe online
  • Find a tool that is cloud based so that students can use on any device and therefore they are not limited to using the same device each session
  • Find a tool that can incorporate child friendly websites for conducting research.
After conducting much research myself, I decided to use SMART amp.  Winner of recent awards including 2015 Bett Awards, 2014 eSchool News Top Education Products,  and a finalist for the 2015 SIIA Education CODIE Awards, SMART amp was designed with the purpose to be used on any device, anywhere, at any time.  I am fortunate to be a SMART amp Champ and therefore I received advanced training from SMART Technologies enabling me to mentor other teachers in using this software with their students.  

Now that I knew what tool we would use to conduct the research project, it was time to train both the teachers and their students in using SMART amp so they would be comfortable in using the software independently.  Instead of the students visiting the computer lab, I bring devices - either Chromebooks or iPads into the classrooms.  This way, the students are using the devices as a part of their learning experience in their own classroom setting.  With all tools, practice makes perfect, so it did take some time for everyone to learn how to use the software.  Once the students learned how to use the software, they were very comfortable using it and enjoyed using it to learn.  In addition, I teach the students while the teachers are in the classroom.  This way, I can collaborate with the classroom teachers while modeling it for the students.  Our students need to learn how to collaborate with each other and the best ways to teach them are by modeling the skills as well as providing them with opportunities through which they can do so.

Now that the students are broken up into their respective groups, it's time for them to conduct their research.  Each group will be responsible for conducting research and communicating their data on a continent or an animal.  Within each group, each member will be responsible for specific subtopics of their continent or animal.  For instance, if a group is researching the Continent of North America, each member in the group will be responsible for researching specific attributes about North America.  The students will use a combination of books and a child friendly research website, Ducksters to research their information.  Since SMART amp enables web content to be integrated and embedded within the workspace, the students do not need to browse the web externally.  They will report their findings within their very own SMART amp workspace.  They will collaborate with each other on their findings.  At the end of the research project, they will present their findings and what they have learned to the class.  

Below are examples of what the students will be researching for the topic of continents.  

I am so amazed by what the first grade teachers and students are doing.  Through collaborating, communicating, creating, and thinking critically, we are preparing our students for a better world.  

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