From Now On
The Educational Technology Journal

Vol 8|No 6|February/March|1999

Networking for Daily Research

by Jamie McKenzie

(About the Author)

While schools are quick to install networks, they rarely give student questioning and research the daily focus it deserves to optimize use of the networks. This article offers three strategies to make research a daily ongoing constant of the school experience.
Strategy One - The Year Long Project
"Five Hundred Miles"
Each student starts the year by identifying a leader, a celebrity, a crisis, a hobby or some other aspect of life which interests them enough to devote nine months to its study.

Each student becomes an expert on her or his subject and is ultimately expected to convert the expertise into an authentic product.

1. Selection Each student settles on one field of interest and identifies one particular aspect worthy of tracking.
2. Questioning Rather than gathering all information regarding the subject, the student will form key questions so that only pertinent information is retained.
3. Storage This is an opportunity to design an efficient information storage and retrieval system so that the student can sort, sift and interpret even after collecting hundreds of records.
4. Prospecting Early in the project, the student surveys the information landscape and identifies all relevant, reliable sites. If possible, the student sets up an automated flow (push technology).
5. Monitoring sites & expanding resources The student keeps an eye on daily and weekly developments, periodically visiting sites which have no "alert" capability. The student frequently updates sources as new ones emerge or old ones fold.
6. Responding to inquiries The student has a chance to demonstrate expertise by responding to questions from peers and others either personally or through e-mail.
7. Creating a product The student shares insight by developing a product of some kind related to the subject. The product should require original thought, data compression and synthesis.

For a full description of how to manage such projects, enjoy the online professional development unit at 500 Miles: The Workshop.

Strategy Two - Essential Questions in Every Unit
Each time a teacher introduces a new unit, the class is shown 5 or more essential questions and asked to explore one of them during the unit or build one of her or his own subject to teacher approval.

Essential Questions - These are questions which touch our hearts and souls. They are central to our lives. They help to define what it means to be human.

Most important thought during our lives will center on such essential questions.

  • What does it mean to be a good friend?
  • What kind of friend shall I be?
  • Who will I include in my circle of friends?
  • How shall I treat my friends?
  • How do I cope with the loss of a friend?
  • What can I learn about friends and friendships from the novels we read in school?
  • How can I be a better friend?

If we were to draw a cluster diagram of the Questioning Toolkit, Essential Questions would be at the center of all the other types of questions. All the other questions and questioning skills serve the purpose of "casting light upon" or illuminating Essential Questions.

Most Essential Questions are interdisciplinary in nature. They cut across the lines created by schools and scholars to mark the terrain of departments and disciplines.

Essential Questions probe the deepest issues confronting us . . . complex and baffling matters which elude simple answers: Life - Death - Marriage - Identity - Purpose - Betrayal - Honor - Integrity - Courage - Temptation - Faith - Leadership - Addiction - Invention - Inspiration.

The greatest novels, the greatest plays, the greatest songs and the greatest paintings all explore Essential Questions in some manner.

Essential Questions are at the heart of the search for Truth.

Many of us believe that schools should devote more time to Essential Questions and less time to Trivial Pursuit.

One major reform effort, the Coalition of Essential Schools, has made Essential Questions a keystone of its learning strategy. (Visit the Coalition Web site).

Essential Questions offer the organizing focus for a unit. If the U.S. History class will spend a month on a topic such as the Civil War, students explore the events and the experience with a mind toward casting light upon one of the following questions, or they develop Essential Questions of their own . . .

  • Why do we have to fight wars?
  • Do we have to fight wars?
  • How could political issues or ideas ever become more important than family loyalties?
  • Some say our country remains wounded by the slavery experience and the Civil War. In what ways might this claim be true and in what ways untrue? What evidence can you supply to substantiate your case?
  • Military officers often complain that the effective conduct of modern war is impeded by political interference and popular pressures on the home front. To what extent did this also prove true during the Civil War?
  • How can countries avoid the kind of bloodshed and devastation we experienced during our Civil War?
  • How much diversity can any nation tolerate?
  • Who showed greater bravery and courage, the front line soldiers and the nurses who tended to the wounded and dying or the leaders of the war effort?
  • Should there be a law against war profiteering?

For more on Essential Questions read this other selection.

Strategy Three - The Daily Research Question
Each day begins with students walking into the classroom to note an intriguing research question on the board. Puzzles, riddles and curious questions that can be answered reasonably well without months of study. These should require some thought and ingenuity, not be mere trivial pursuit. They should be highly motivating and captivating.

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