A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to a Research Project . . .

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Teachers know that even the best thought out plans and projects can run into unforeseen problems or situations.  That recently happened to me.  As my class is nearing the end of the science unit on adaptations, I had planned a culminating research project for my third graders.  It was NOT quite turning out like I had planned.  In fact, I was perplexed at how eager they were to start the project compared to how poorly they started the project!   Let’s backtrack and review what I had done up to that point!

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When I became a 1:1 classroom last year, I immediately began creating resources for my students.  I tried different programs and apps, but the most versatile and easiest to use was Google Slides.  With Google Slides, I can prepare templates for my students to use.  I’ve used Google Slides regularly in my classroom for all subject areas.  So it was natural to then create a resource that would integrate various curricular areas with the technology I had:  a class set of Chrome Books. So I created the  Desert Animal Adaptations Interactive Digital Notebook for Google Slides.  Below you will see examples of  some of the slides.

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This resource contains 17 slides all about adaptation.  Students research specific desert animals and how their adaptations help them survive in a desert biome.  They research and learn about types of adaptations for defense, as well as, adaptations of prey vs predator.  Each slide has a website link to a trusted and reliable website.  There’s also a link on each slide to a specific video with information needed to complete the information on the slide.  As students work on each slide, they research and take notes to answer and complete each slide (the resource comes with a Note Taker Sheet so students stay focused on the research).  The final slide in this digital interactive notebook contains a research project in which they select a certain desert animal and research its adaptations.

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Science Adaptations Unit

My science unit on adaptations focuses mainly on an animal’s structural adaptations, though I do cover some behavioral adaptations as well.  The science unit also covers the Earth’s Biomes, as they have a direct influence on adaptations. I have many wonderful non-fiction picture books I use throughout the unit.  I also use the science textbook for shared reading passages.  I also have resources such as Bill Nye the Science Guy videos.  There are also a few adaptation experiments we during the unit such as camouflaging a butterfly on wrapping paper or putting our hand in freezing water wrapped around lard to simulate arctic animals that use blubber as an insulator.  We even had an opportunity to take a field trip to a local hiking trail.  There on the trail, expert guides showed us adaptations of the local plants and animals.

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Here’s a nifty trick I use to project the science textbook to my projector without using a document camera:  I take a picture of a page with my iPad.  Then I quickly edit the picture and use the send command to send it to iCloud.  Then I use an iPad app called PDFExpert to open the picture and it will convert it to a PDF.  Once it’s a PDF, I can use the same app to annotate the text as we read!  I also have an AppleTV connected to my projector so I can instantly use AirPlay to project anything from my iPad to the projector.  This is important because I teach the ELA Common Core Standards using our science book or social studies textbooks (or any other suitable passages).  I use the science text to teach stating the main idea, finding supporting details, learning domain-specific words, using text features, identifying text structure, etc.  This entire unit not only integrates many standards but also the curricular areas of science, reading, and writing.

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Common Core ELA Standards

The ELA Common Core Standards I focused on were the informational standards related to the main idea and key details, domain-specific words, text features, conducting short research projects, writing expository paragraphs, and note-taking from various sources including digital sources.  That’s a lot of standards to cover in one unit, but when integrated they support each other and create a synergy of learning.  What does this all have to do with my research project? Everything!  These are all the skills needed to complete a research project.

The research project that I had carefully planned, involved the students selecting a desert animal and conducting research into the biome in which it lives, what the biome provides, and the adaptations the animal has to survive in that biome.  A piece of cake, I thought!  My students had already learned so much about animal adaptations, and I was sure to focus many of my science content lessons on the desert biome (we are in California, and deserts cover about one-fourth of our state).  I provided the students with links to websites for them to select their animal and begin the research. I also gave them a list of information they had to gather to write three expository paragraphs about their animal.

Support for Students With Special Needs

I knew that in order for my students to work independently on the Desert Animal Adaptations Interactive Digital Notebook for Google Slides AND accomplish the research project independently,  I would have had to address the following student needs:

  • RSP students who struggle with writing
  • ELL students who have limited academic vocabulary
  • Students reading below grade level

So when I designed this Google Slides Interactive Notebook, I made allowances for all that.

For my RSP students, they had multiple opportunities to practice shorter responses before the research project.  They also could use the built-in spell checker of Google Slides.  They could work with a partner if necessary.  They could even work on it during their RSP pull out if it coincided with their goals.  I also had a plan to make time to work with my three RSP students in a small group and chunking the project so it wouldn’t appear overwhelming.  My particular RSP students will do almost anything to avoid writing.  So this was going to be a challenge.  They can read, but would rather watch a video and take notes from the video.

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For my ELL students, all the front loading of the vocabulary was done through read-alouds and discussion.  Visuals and videos were used throughout.  Because the research project is meant to be done independently, it also gave me opportunities to work one on one or a small support group for my ELL students.

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For my students reading below grade level, I could pair them up with a partner and they could take tandem notes. I could also enable the text to speech function of the Chrome Book if necessary.  The video links I provided also gave them opportunities to find the information from just listening and watching a video, not just from print or web resources.  I also worked with them individually if I saw they were struggling.

How Did I Prepare Students for the Final Culminating Activity?

After having worked on our Desert Animals Adaptations Interactive Digital Notebook for over two weeks, I thought I had prepared my students well for the final slide in the notebook:  researching a desert animal.  We would definitely have enough time as my writing block and content area block would be combined which is approximately 80 minutes long each day of the week, except Wednesdays which is a minimum day.  The Desert Animal Adaptations Interactive Digital Notebook for Google Slides that I had created prepared the students by giving them lots of practice with researching, writing and content information on adaptations.  Each slide provided the student with a website and selected video to take notes in order to answer questions or complete a slide.

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I had also taught mini-lessons on how to use the technology to intelligently search on websites using the page search feature built into most web browsers including Chrome (use control + f or command + f). Using the page search function, I had taught mini-lessons on how to use keywords (and their synonyms) to find the information needed on web pages.  My mini-lessons also focused on using the text features on the website such as tables, maps, headers, illustrations or photographs, captions, etc.  With videos, my students were already used to taking video notes and using the video controls to rewind, fast forward, pause,  and using the time index.  I did have to teach another mini-lesson on what to do if the video has no narration!  They thought that if it didn’t have narration, there was no information.  So we watched a video without sound and focused on the images we saw and what we could infer.

As far as expository writing goes, this entire trimester has focused exclusively on expository writing.  My students were taught and have practiced many times writing expository paragraphs with topic sentences, supporting details,  and a concluding sentence.  Additionally, since the beginning of the year,  we have used the RACE strategy (watch this YouTube video about R.A.C.E.S) for providing answers to constructed-response type questions.

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RACE stands for:

  • Restate the question
  • Answer the question and all its parts
  • Cite evidence to support your answer
  • Explain or give examples to support your evidence

The extra S stands for summarizing your answer.  I leave this step out.

Wrap all of this within the Science content (adaptations and biomes) we had been learning through picture books, the science book, videos, demonstrations, and experiments (such as this one you’ll find on Pinterest) you would think the students would be well equipped to handle a culminating research project on adaptation.  They were taught many skills and strategies to make them PROS at conducting a short research project!

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I Thought I Had It All Figured Out!

I thought I had it all planned out and figured out.   I thought they would apply their newly learned and practiced research skills to the final project.  So when it came time to begin the research project, what happened?  As I looked at what they had done so far, I was not pleased and somehow shocked at the quality of the work. It was like no research skills had been learned at all!

I kept asking myself:  Why didn’t the students take sufficient notes?  Why didn’t the students organize their notes?  Why didn’t the students know how to formulate a paragraph?  Why couldn’t the students find the necessary information?  What happened?

Looking back, even though I gave each student a list of the necessary information needed and the web links to find it, they didn’t apply everything that they had just learned in the previous two weeks!  They needed something to remind them of the process and what exactly was needed to be researched.   I notice this phenomenon more and more each year.  The more we teach students strategies, they less they use them and apply them!  They always seem to default to the “I’ll do it my way no matter how incorrectly I’m doing it” approach.  It is very frustrating.  So what’s the answer?

The answer is a graphic organizer!  Something so simple, yet powerful to keep them going in the right direction while applying the skills that they have learned.

So I provided each student with a new graphic organizer for their research notes for the final slide and project.  I’m also provided each student with a new graphic organizer to plan the three paragraphs.  The visual cues of the graphic organizers will remind them what they are researching as well as how to organize it for writing paragraphs.

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Maybe it was just too much to do all at once for my students without some kind of guide to keep them on track.  Now that this glitch is resolved, I gave my students another week to complete the research project.  If all works as newly planned, the graphic organizer will be included as part of the resources in the Desert Animal Adaptations Interactive Digital Notebook for Google Slides.

Here is one example of a student who used the graphic organizers and then typed it all onto the slide.  Here is the completed slide.

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Discover How Another Teacher Incorporated Interactive Digital Notebooks!

My friend over at Caffeine Queen Teacher Blogspot has a great post detailing how she has incorporated the Woodlands Adaptations Interactive Digital Notebook resource into a literacy unit.  If you haven’t heard about Grandma Gatewood who hiked the Appalachian Trail at age 67, then head on over to her blog and read all about it!  What a great way to blend literacy print resources, an inspiring story, science learning and technology!

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Why Make the Switch to Interactive Digital Notebooks?

* A Table of Contents linked to each slide for easy navigation and return navigation
* HYPERLINKS to trusted and reliable websites on the slide for easy access

* Video Links using Safeshare.tv for safe viewing from YouTube

* An Answer Key 

* A Scoring Guide 

* A List of Common Core State Standards for ELA paired to each slide by grade level (3, 4, and 5)

* Tutorial for the teacher on how to assign the Interactive Digital Notebook in Google Classroom

* Teacher Tips for using Google Slides

* Student instructions in the SPEAKER NOTES
* PDF file for the teacher of all the slides for reference
* PDF file for the teacher of the slides with SPEAKER NOTES

* A PRINTABLE for the student on which to take notes by hand

The main reason I enjoy creating and using these Interactive Digital Notebooks is that they can seamlessly integrate many standards and skills at once while all correlated to any content or curricular area I wish to use!  

You can find out more about these digital resources by going here.

Also, follow me on PINTEREST Also, follow me on PINTEREST to get the latest information, resources, tips and ideas for using everything GOOGLE in the classroom.

Interactive Digital Notebooks can be truly amazing because they can include so many digital resources as links.  It’s only a matter of designing a template for students to use that will go along with the content being studied.  You can check out all my previous blog posts on using Google Slides and see for yourself.  

The Desert Animal Adaptations Interactive Digital Notebook for Google Slides includes not only the digital notebook but all the following as well:

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Google Products 4 Google Apps

Google in the Classroom



As always, I welcome your thoughts and suggestions!