Leading up to the mid-winter break the fourth graders embarked on their first research project of the year about extreme weather. The group project involved researching one of seven major types of weather and climate challenges: Tsunamis, Floods, Earthquakes, Wildfires, Volcanoes, Blizzards, and Erosion. The students worked together in groups of three or four to learn as much as they could about their topic.
While this sounds like a science unit, and there was a lot of science embedded within it, it was actually a reading unit. We focused on reading expository texts, and learning to take notes and share learning from those texts. Fourth graders got to utilize their previous nonfiction reading practice deciphering if the text structure is chronological, cause and effect, descriptive, compare or contrast, or problem and solution. They worked on understanding text structure, using text features, making connections to other information held on the topic, and taking notes.
The first step for the groups, after receiving their topic and doing some initial reviewing of resources, was to decide sub-topics. In the end, students noticed that all groups essentially had narrowed to the same sub-topics which defined their extreme weather; measuring, prevention and safety, causes, effects, real life stories, and historical events. The students then split up the sub-topics and did research on their own areas of focus.
The next step was to organize and synthesize their information. This is way trickier than you might imagine! Deciding on the important information, finding ways to connect different sources, and making sense of big topics is new and challenging. However, it was incredible to watch their development as readers and researchers over the course of the weeks of study. Researchers grew hugely in their understanding of how to organize notes to communicate their information.
The other challenge for students was group work. Deciding who would do which sub-topics was the easy part. Managing a group set of slides, ensuring that their slides were cohesive, and supporting each other to understand the topic was difficult. Students essentially managed themselves throughout this project, with guidance of what needed to be on the slides and steps they needed to complete. One area that we didn’t anticipate being as hard as it was, was sharing a google slide deck as a group. With the ability to easily change and adjust other people’s work, remove editing access for group members and play around with slide layout, we’re really in a whole new world of what group work skills means. As adults supporting the groups, we tried to keep ourselves in the background to help students develop the group work and leadership skills that a project like this will hone.
Finally, it was time to present their work! Students shared their slides and taught the other groups about their extreme weather. It was incredible to see students shine in this way. Some students love public speaking while for others it was terrifying. But they each got up in front of the class to present their learning. The best part was watching the class truly learn from the groups and ask thoughtful, insightful questions.
The whole project took about three weeks and students demonstrated joy, excitement and personal growth throughout. Undoubtedly they will draw upon their experiences researching, working with a team, pulling out the most important pieces of information, and public speaking, as they continue to grow as learners.