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Documentary-Style Research Projects


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Keywords: research, iMovie, documentary, report, typing, organization, planning, digital tools, evaluation, reflection
Subject(s): Video, Technology, Geography, Writing, Reading, Information Skills, Social Studies, English/Language Arts, Spelling, Grammar, Civics, History
Grades 4 through 6
School: Downtown Elementary School, Memphis, TN
Planned By: Laura Smith
Original Author: Laura Smtih, Memphis
Introduction: The Basics of Research
1. What is research? Begin with discussing "research." What does it mean to "research" something? What do students use to research things on their own? (such as looking up how something works, how to beat a level in a video game, or what movies their favorite star has been in). Explain that for this project, students will be using digital sources, or internet resources, to research information on their topic. They will want to learn all they can about the topic that they choose.
2. How do you evaluate what you find? Demonstrate a simple search for a topic, such as "dolphin" or "cobra." Point out some of the search results and prompt students with some questions. If you want to find out about dolphins and where they live, would clicking on a search result for the Miami Dolphins football team be a relevant source of information? Likewise, if you wanted to know about cobra snakes, would a link for COBRA health insurance be relevant for your research? With these examples, explain to students that finding information using a keyword search engine like Google or Bing means that they have to know what they are looking for and read search descriptions to determine if the websites returned are relevant to their topic. Secondly, discuss the idea of "reliability." Websites that are relevant might not always be reliable. Students should always strive to use reliable websites, those that show bibliographies, are written by qualified people, etc. I usually direct my students to recognize addresses: .edu, .gov, and .org are likely to be more reliable. In addition, a discussion of fact and opinion can help students understand that if they recognize a lot of opinions in a web article, that is not a reliable source of factual information.
3. How do you know what to look for? Explain to students that they will be choosing a topic to research, but they will need to come up with some "guiding questions" to help them focus what they are looking for. For example, tell students that "dolphins" or "cobras" would provide a very broad topic. What questions could they ask to narrow it down into more manageable parts? For example: What is the animal's habitat? What are its food sources? When students choose their topic, they will need to come up with some guiding questions to help them better research their topic.
4. Have students choose their topic. I usually provide a list of topics related to the social studies curriculum for the grade. Once they have chosen their topic, they should write three guiding questions. The questions should start with "why" or "how," and students can all choose a fourth question that asks, "What are some other interesting facts about this topic?" You might give students a chance to read about their topic before making guiding questions.

Starting the Research
1. Using notebook paper or a word processing document, have students set up an outline defining their four guiding questions with room beneath each in the outline to add three or four facts pertaining to the questions. There should also be room for students to take citations.
2. What are citations? Ask students what's wrong about copying information directly from a website. Guide them into a discussion about plagiarism. Modeling, read a short excerpt on a reliable website pertaining to one of the students' topics. Read it out loud and then ask, "How could I put this in my own words?" As students offer suggestions, model typing or writing the notes. Then, tell the students that you need to write down where you got the information in case you need to go back, and also so that you give credit to the source you read the information from. Model writing a simple internet article citation. I have my students write the title of the website or article, the date they read it, and then copy and paste the website address into their notes outline document.
3. Guide students through the writing of their first note and citation, and continue to model and observe, helping students understand the procedure of search, evaluate, read, paraphrase, write, cite.
4. Depending upon the length of time you spend with students working on this portion of the project, it can take several days or weeks to complete the notes and citations. As students show you their work, periodically check it and provide suggestions for searching for more information, or going more in depth into the details they are collecting. Since this is social studies, push them to understand the why's, who's, and how's of the historical events or ideas they are researching. For example, if a student is researching medieval castles and they write that castles had moats, arrow slits, and drawbridges for protection, ask them to find out "why" the Middle Ages were such dangerous times, or why castles needed so much protection.
**It might be better for time constraints to provide links for students that would best get them started in searching for information on the internet.

Organizing and Reporting
1. After the notes and citations part of the project is complete, guide students in taking their guiding questions and turning them into topic sentences. All information collected should be added as supporting details. This will lead to a four paragraph basic report, with of course a need for introduction and conclusion.
2. Students will then type an alphabetized list of their citations. If notes and citations were made in a word processing document, they can easily be copied and pasted onto a fresh bibliography page.
3. Congratulate students on going through all the steps successfully, and inform them that the next step of the project will involve creating a video that sums up their research.

iMovie Documentary Video
If students are not familiar with iMovie, take the project slowly, one step at a time, introducing new tools with modeling as they apply to the step of the project.
1. Have students create a new project and give it a name.
2. Begin with using titles. Students should add a title slide, and then create three "centered" titles in which they type their topic sentences from the three guiding questions (minus the interesting facts) from their reports.
3. Then move on to images. As with the research, it might be good for time constraints to have links for public domain images or other acceptable websites with images students can use. Most school systems have image searches blocked. Have students collect 5 or more images related to their topic, writing down the websites where they got the images from. I have students control-click the images, chose "add to iPhoto library" and then they are easily imported into iMovie.
4. After students import images into their project, have them create a credit slide at the end where they list credits for the images.
5. Now, prompt them to add more title slides, or put subtitles over pictures, which give more details into their topic sentences. These should all be shortened from their reports, requiring rephrasing or paraphrasing. Remind students they are sharing the information via text and pictures.
6. Students may also create their own images to add into the presentation if you have access to a scanner, or if students draw in a painting program or other program with a "save as .jpg" option (such as PowerPoint).
7. Have students use the duration feature to adjust slide and image times to allow viewers to see and read everything without rushing.
8. If you have a microphone, voice over can be an effective addition to the presentation of information.
9. Lastly, have students choose music either from the iLife library, or from songs allowed for student use on Freeplaymusic.com (please read the sites TOS for more info on student projects for the classroom). Music not from the iLife library must be imported into iTunes before it can be used in iMovie.

Saving: Using a server or flashdrive, collect student videos that have been exported as Quicktime movies or other video files, and compile on a DVD for the class. Have students present their videos to the class.

Assessing: After reviewing the steps of the entire process, have students write a reflection answering these questions...
1. What steps did you go through to get from knowing very little about your topic, to creating a video about it?
2. What did you learn about your topic?
3. What computer skills did you learn along the way?
4. The next time you are asked to do a research project, how will you plan to do it?
Cross-Curriculum Ideas
Plan with language arts teachers to ensure that proper grammar and spelling conventions are met during composition of the written report and title/text slides in the video. Consider adapting this for a science or other subject research project.
Follow-Up
Consider planning a "Film Fest Night" in which you invite students and their families to come into the classrooms or auditorium to watch the student videos. Display student reports, bibliographies, and reflections.
Materials: Short Throw Projectors, Projector Screens, Microphones, Video Tools, CDs and DVDs, Hard Drives, Printers, Flash/USB Drives, Power, Keyboards, Headsets, Ports and Hubs, LCD Monitors, Mice, Office Suite, Word Processor, Art Tools, Sound Libraries, Student Resources, Clip Art