As a teacher in a 1:1 classroom with Chrome Books, I’m always thinking of ways to integrate the use of the Chrome Books throughout the day and throughout the curriculum. One way they are powerfully integrated is for researching and writing. In the Common Core State Standards, third graders learn to:
Conduct short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.
Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
Introduce a topic and group related information together; include illustrations when useful to aiding comprehension.
Develop the topic with facts, definitions, and details.
Use linking words and phrases (e.g., also, another, and, more, but) to connect ideas within categories of information.
Provide a concluding statement or section.
With guidance and support from adults, use technology to produce and publish writing (using keyboarding skills) as well as to interact and collaborate with others.
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In other words, they need to conduct research on a curricular topic, write in an expository format and publish it all using technology. That’s a lot for an 8-year-old to accomplish! Additionally, those same standards appear in grades 4 and 5 as well (slightly increased in rigor).
I have found a way that powerfully integrates those standards. As a culmination project for our unit on Native Americans, my students researched three California Indians tribes. They specifically focused on how the California Indians used the natural resources of the region to survive.
Here’s how we did it. During the unit, we used our Social Studies text to take notes on how the California Indians used their natural resources. That was the first step, learning to take notes. This is important because the students need to learn how to take accurate notes on a specific question or they will just copy down everything in the text without thinking if it is related to the question.
The next step is to simultaneously teach the format of expository writing. I like to teach it in concert with reading and finding the main idea. After all, the main idea should be the topic sentence of the paragraph. So as we read, we try to find the main idea and supporting details. Side note: our Social Studies text is so poorly written that finding any well-developed paragraph with a topic sentence is almost impossible. But this a good point to make to students: this is why you are so confused when you read your social studies text! Poor writing leads to readers not understanding the main point. We practice writing an expository paragraph as a class using the notes we took.
Once students can see the connection between their notes and their writing, it’s time to introduce new sources: websites and videos. Again, taking notes from a website must be explicitly taught or students will waste their time taking unrelated notes or not be able to find notes. Here are some strategies I taught my students when looking through websites. First and foremost, the website must be reliable and trustworthy (I took care of that since I was the one who found the websites). Then, scan through the web page for headers, especially those related to our topic of natural resources (foods, shelters, tools, etc.). If there are no headers, scan for keywords.
Now, there is a shortcut for scanning for keywords which I did not introduce yet because I wanted my students to learn to use headers and keywords. But on any website, just use the computer’s search function to search the page for keywords. That will be introduced in the next research project. From the website, students only have to add notes for facts they did not add from the print resources they originally used.
The next step is taking video notes. This is something I introduced earlier and we do practice it throughout the curriculum. Again, you must explicitly teach the students to take notes ONLY on facts that will help answer the question (how did the CA Indians use their natural resources to survive). Then, of course, there are the technical aspects of taking video notes: using the play and pause buttons, using the time sliders, using earbuds or headphones, etc. Teach those once and they’ll be set for the rest of the year. I supplied my students with links to two videos on each tribe. I previewed each video to make sure it was appropriate and contained usable information.
You might be asking: where are the students writing down these notes? Good question. I didn’t want third graders taking messy notes that were not organized. So I developed a Note Taker sheet that helps the student with taking notes. You can download the Note Taker Sheet as a FREEBIE right HERE. The first task on the Note Taker Sheet is to write down what information is needed to be researched. I have the students write this down in the form of a question: What natural resources did the California Indians use to survive in their region?
Then there are three separate boxes for taking notes: Text Sources, Website Sources, and Video Sources. We always start with text sources first! However, it might make sense to start with video sources first if you have students who are reading significantly below grade level or have special education needs or are English Language Learners. For the print sources, we used our text book (and I had read aloud many wonderful non-fiction books on California Indians) as well as this very good resource from Sailing Into Second: California Native Americans. I gave each student a copy of the three tribes: Pomo, Mojave, and Chumash.
We did the first tribe, the Pomo, together. I took them through the entire process of note-taking, paragraph writing and publishing. So now every student had an example paragraph published on the first slide: The Pomo. Then I let them start on the Mojave. They went through the process of researching and note-taking from the print resource, the websites, and the videos. They had to show me their notes before they began drafting their paragraph. The drafting is done in their writing journal. Once they have completed the drafting, they revise on their own first. Then they work with a partner to revise. Finally, then come to me for a revision conference. I think it is important for students to get as much feedback and learn to revise. Once they revised with me, they were then given permission to publish their paragraph on the Google Slides template.
Editing was done on the computer since Google Slides has built in spell checker. My students also have access to grammarly.com and can use that to check for grammar and also spelling. I think it’s important that students use the Chrome Book’s ability to check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation…after all, technology is supposed to help us! Once typed, the student added pictures (picture of the tribe, picture of food source, picture of shelter, and a picture of a tool.). The pictures were gathered from using Google Image search. My students had already learned to do an image search and resize the image.
If the student finished the Mojave Tribe, then they started the entire process again for the Chumash tribe: research, writing, publishing. We have worked on this project every afternoon (combining our writing block with the content area block) for about two weeks. Not all students are finished because some just lose focus, are confused or are just slow at typing or writing. So that means students can finish this work during other times of the day or even for homework (they can access their Google account from home).
Scoring the Project
Now comes time to score the project! I informed the students that the entire project would count towards the Social Studies grade and a writing grade. For Social Studies, I will score each slide for content (enough facts to show how the tribe used their natural resources to survive, the accuracy and appropriateness of the pictures, and showing the location on the map. Four pictures, a map location and at least 5 facts give a score of 10 points that can be earned for Social Studies. For writing, I have to use the District Informative Writing Rubric. It’s not my first choice, but I am required to score writing using district rubrics. On the rubric, we look at how the student has mastered the genre, the organization and focus, and the conventions. What I do is put a date in the box that best reflects the student’s writing (using a scale of 1 – 4) for the genre, the organization and focus, and the conventions. The student can get up to 12 points. I total up the points and divide by 12 to get a score.
For the next slide, I will use the same paper and rubric again from the first assignment to score the next writing assignment, but this time, I use a different date. I will continue to use that same paper and rubric. That way, over time I can see how the student is progressing. I also use the rubric to inform my teaching. I can see from scoring some student writing, that my students need writing mini-lessons on writing well-developed facts using more complex sentence structure.
Finally, does this process look familiar to you? It should if you’ve ever administered the SBAC! The writing performance task on the SBAC is very similar: research, take notes, compose! If your students use this process throughout the year, then that SBAC performance task will not look so impossible to complete!
Continuing the Process of Researching, Writing, and Publishing
My students will continue this process with our next unit: Adaptations and Biomes. I have developed an Interactive Digital Notebook on Desert Adaptations (Woodlands coming soon!). It is a Google Slides ready resource in which the students will use their textbook and other print resources, as well as websites and videos to research and learn about desert animal adaptations. The culminating task is a slide in which the student will research a desert animal to write a report on how that particular animal has adapted to living in a desert biome. However, this time, the student will write 3 or more expository paragraphs!
This resource is similar to the California Indian Project, but the links to the websites and videos are located on the slide instead of external Google Classroom links. Each slide is also different from the previous slide because students will be studying a particular aspect of adaptation whereas, the California Indian Project used the same template for each slide but just varied the tribe.
The Desert Adaptations resource has 17 slides for the student to research structural adaptations of desert animals. Below is a screen shot of the Table of Contents.
Do your students spend time looking at inappropriate or useless websites? Are you afraid they’ll stumble upon an inappropriate video on YouTube? Not to worry! Each slide has a link to a trusted website and a child appropriate video. I have personally chosen websites that are geared for students in grades 3 – 5. The websites are also reliable (the site has been around for awhile and has accurate information). The same with the videos. The videos have been linked through safeshare.tv which means the students will only see the video and not any other YouTube videos, comments or ads making it safer for students to view. As a teacher, this is a huge timesaver rather than having to spend hours researching websites and videos for your students to use. Each slide has directions for the student that explains the task to complete. An answer key and scoring guide are also included.
Making the Switch to Digital Notebooks and Templates
If you are hesitant to make the move to digital resources such as Google Slides, this interactive digital notebook is a great way to start. And if you’re not sure how to create templates, this interactive digital notebook is a good place to start, too! As a teacher, all you need to do is assign the digital notebook through Google Classroom (or email each student a copy of the file). I’ve included instructions on how to assign the project in Google Classroom. You can use each slide as a follow-up to a lesson or just have the students use the slide to research independently. Once the interactive digital notebook is completed, they turn it in to you via Google Classroom for you to score. The students can also view the interactive digital notebook in presentation mode which means they can use it to make an oral presentation.
Using digital interactive notebooks means that there is not actual cutting and pasting onto paper notebooks, leaving the student to spend more valuable time researching and learning about a topic. Since it is a virtual notebook, the student can use it to study for a test by viewing it at home. No need to worry about using up ink to print in color, since using color photographs and clip art is highly encouraged and makes the interaction with the notebook more meaningful. Speaking of interaction, some of the slides are created in a way that has the student dragging and placing objects on the slide to complete it. Those are just some of the advantages to switching over to digital interactive notebooks or Google Slide templates.
Another advantage of using interactive digital notebooks is that changes to a slide can be made at any time to update information or to differentiate tasks among students. Multimedia can be easily incorporated with animations, videos, color photographs, charts, and tables.
And here’s an added bonus! Parents can view the presentation anytime from home when the student accesses their Google account. I’ve also used the interactive digital notebooks as part of Open House. The student sits with the parents and shows them on the Chrome Book the various interactive digital notebooks we completed throughout the year (they stay in the cloud forever until the student deletes it!).
If you are interested in finding out more about interactive digital notebooks, I’ve written some other blog posts about using them with my students. Also, take a look at all the Google App resources now available in my store. More and more are being added throughout the year.