Last year, the kids researched careers in the fall, and animals in the spring. We decided to move the animal research project to the fall this year because the kids really enjoyed it, and they are really inquisitive about animals. We'll do a second research project with them in the spring... topics TBD!
The students used PebbleGo Animals database to do their research. They spent the first class period (approximately 45 minutes) exploring PebbleGo and reading about at least 3 different animals. While they explored, they read text, listened to the text read to them, watched videos, and examined maps of the animals' ranges. They also listened to the animals' noises (if their animals make a noise!).
It was awesome to watch them explore and learn. I always get excited to hear them tell each other things they've learned, or show each other something cool they've found. I heard one student explaining to another that he could tell from the range map that his animal lives in warm habitats; then he exclaimed, "I just learned something!" I could not have been any happier when I heard him say that. It's so important to let them explore topics of their choice at their own pace. It would take a lot less time to assign the animals to them, but they would miss out on these self-directed discoveries that make the learning so much more meaningful.
At the end of the period, they decided which animal they would research for their project. The next week, they took notes about their animal's body, habitat, life cycle, and food. They also wrote down a "wow fact" - something that they learned that could be considered their favorite fact. We tell the kids that a wow fact is something that makes you say "wow" and that makes you want to tap your neighbor and tell them.
The third lesson we did with the kids was on identifying keywords in their research notes. We modeled the skill on the Smartboard in the classroom with a sample set of research notes. I showed the kids how to circle (or highlight) the keywords in 3 sentences I wrote about my animal's body. Then together, we practiced finding keywords about my animal's food, habitat, and life cycle. One of the teachers wanted to take it a step further (and we had time to do so), so we had the students circle their keywords and then use a piece of lined paper to list the keywords out - one on each line.
In the fourth lesson, students used tagxedo.com to create word clouds in the shape of their animals. Prior to this lesson, I saved clip art shapes for each of their animals to a flash drive. Once we were in the lab, the teacher and I loaded their animals' shapes into their computers so that their word clouds would be in the shape of their specific animals. It's a little time consuming, but well worth it. The students used their keywords from their notes to create their word clouds. They're still learning to type on a keyboard, so it does take a little time and a lot of effort, but the end result is well worth it. The students were so proud of themselves and anxious to see their word clouds printed in final form. Several students said they wanted to give them to their parents for Christmas.
I printed each word cloud and gave them to the teachers for the students to take home. In class, they've been working on writing reports about their animal using their research notes. We're planning to create an e-book for each class after the winter break with their word clouds and written reports.
Here are a few of the students' word clouds:
What I love most about this project is that because the kids enjoy it so much as first graders, they are excited (and actually begging) to do more research!