Class Research Project – A Funny Thing Happened. . .

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.  Let’s backtrack and review what I had done up to that point.

research project for elementary students

I’m in a 1:1 Classroom Now so Now What Do I Do?

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.

desert animals adaptations research project

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.  It’s a perfect culminating research project.  Below you will see examples of some of the slides.

What’s in This Resource?

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.

desert animals adaptations research project 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 short research project in which they select a certain desert animal and research its adaptations.

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.  We share read the science textbook as well.

adaptations field trip

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.

Common Core ELA Standards in the Research Project

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.  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 a 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.  Another option is for them to work with a partner if necessary.  Or 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 to chunk the project so it wouldn’t appear overwhelming.

desert adaptations videos

For my ELL students, I front-loaded the vocabulary through read-alouds and discussion.  I incorporated visuals and videos were used throughout.  Students worked independently on this project giving me opportunities to work one on one or a small support group for my ELL students.

desert adaptations books

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.  My writing block and content area block would be combined to give us 80 minutes four days a week.

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.

Learn How to Search with the CONTROL + F Key

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.

search using Control F Key

My students were already used to taking video notes. The students knew how to use the video controls to rewind, fast forward, pause,  and use 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.

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!

I Thought I Had It All 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!

writing component of research project

I kept asking myself:  Why didn’t the students take sufficient notes?  Why didn’t the students organize their notes?  How come students forgot how to formulate a paragraph?  What prevented the students from finding the necessary information?  What happened?

Reflecting on What Went Wrong During This Research Project

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, the 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.

graphic organizer for research project

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.

A Completed Slide Example

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.

completed slide of research project

What’s the lesson that I learned?  One thing I’ll do is guide students continually so they can stay on track.  They’ll easily stray from everything we’ve taught them unless we hold them accountable for using strategies and skills that were taught.

More Articles on How to Use Digital Resources in Your Classroom

Integrating Technology with Research and Writing

Getting Started With Google Slides

Using Google Draw in the Classroom

Don’t Go Yet!

Are you new the 1:1 classroom setting? Then you’ll want to read my Valuable Tips for the 1:1 Classroom.

Check out how I use Google Classroom to present at Back to School Night for Parents.

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A research project for elementary students that incorporates a Digital Interactive Notebook. Students used graphic organizers to find information on desert animal adaptations. #science #elementary #thirdgrade #digitalnotebook #technology #chromebook
Two Boys and a Dad
Two Boys and a Dad

I’m a single dad raising two boys, 14 and 11. I’m also a veteran teacher of over 30 years who has taught first, second and third grades. I’m also a trained literacy coach, served as a mentor teacher and have a Bilingual Specialist Credential. I’m currently serving as a District Math Coach.

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