The Common Core Shift: Short, Focused Research Projects in Elementary Grades

Planning a Short, Focused Research Project

Begin planning your research or investigation by thinking about a unit of study in your state or local curriculum that is rich in vocabulary and concepts, one that perhaps has posed challenges for students in the past.  (In this example, the water cycle could be a component of a larger unit about weather or natural resources.)  Be clear about what standards or grade expectations you will actively teach and assess with the short, focused research project.

Next, decide upon specific standards from the Common Core that you would like to incorporate in the project.  Try to include at least one standard from reading, writing, listening and speaking, and language. 

Determine what the enduring understanding or “big idea” is for your project.  Depending upon the grade level of your students, possibilities in the water cycle example include:

  • There is a fixed amount of water on earth that gets recycled over and over again.
  • Water makes a journey from clouds to earth and back again.
  • Water is constantly in motion due to the sun’s heat and the earth’s gravity.

Put this enduring understanding in the form of a question.  This becomes your focusing question for the research you'll do with your students.  In our example it could be “What is the journey that water takes on earth?” or “Where does water come from and where does it go?”

List another series of related questions that will help students answer the research question.

  • What is a cycle?
  • What is transpiration?
  • What is condensation?
  • What is evaporation?
  • What role do plants play in the water cycle?
  • What is infiltration?

Besides the above, what other vocabulary will students need to know to show that they understand the concept of the water cycle?  (Depending upon your grade level, these could include aquifer, surface runoff, vapor, invisible, hydrologic cycle)

Gather your resources.  Assemble an assortment of print and digital sources that will help students to answer the research question.  Be deliberate in a search for a complex text to use. Plan a logical sequence for the use of these materials.

Think about how information will be gathered, organized, and synthesized from multiple sources.   (Another shift in the CCSS is writing from sources.  Students will need to take in information from more than one place and reach conclusions about that information.) What will you need to do to scaffold the process for students?  What will be done as a whole class, what will be done in small groups or by individuals?

Decide upon your assessments.   At what point will you check in and adapt your instruction to meet learning needs?  What will you have students do as a final performance task to demonstrate learning?

How will students reflect upon their learning? 




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