Each winter US History students embark on a large scale research project that allows exploration of various 19th and 20th century topics. While the issues researched by each student often complement course content, the research, organization, time management, and writing skills serve as the core to this project.
Beginning prior to winter break, teachers guide students through the exploration of potential topics. Each teacher approaches this task slightly differently, however, the process of identifying and developing a potential thesis is essential. Students are encouraged to follow one's passion and curiosity. This is an opportuntity for students to do indepth research and analysis of an area of interest from the influence of jazz music on American culture to the development of the American dream. Students learn the importance of not only choosing a topic that appeals to them, but one that provides the opportunity to develop a thesis that delves far deeper.
The initial research students conduct on their topic prepares them for an informational speech before a thesis is even developed. During the subsequent weeks of intense research using library resources and online databases, students accumulate useful information and begin developing organization to their project. Using sites such as Noodletools
to highlight pertinent direct quotations and supporting evidence allows each student, regardless of learning style, to choose a structure under which they can operate effectively.
The skills this project seeks to teach are many. Learning to work independently, gaining confidence in research, exploring an issue in depth, using the resources available through the Lovejoy Library
and its databases, annotating properly formatted citations, and managing a long-term project all prepare students for academic experiences beyond Proctor.
As students move through the information gathering process, they must evaluate each piece of evidence, determine its relevance to their argument, and how it will fit with other pieces of evidence they have found. This is, perhaps, the most important skill taught, as students must learn to synthesize information from a variety of sources into an effective argument and then take into consideration revisions made by peers and teachers as they craft a final product.
Two years ago, English, Science and Social Science Department Chairs, along with the school's librarians and Learning Skills Department, developed a Standard Guidelines for Writing
. This document continues to evolve over time, but provides an underlying foundation to how we want to teach the writing process at Proctor.
Social Science Department Chair, Phil Goodnow, acknowledges that as technology and access to information continue to evolve, students are exposed to new opportunities to devise a research process that works best for them. "This research project can be incredibly challenging for students, but as long as we are open to the process, are effective in creating structures around the process, and help guide each student toward accomplishing his or her end goal while using the technology at our finger tips, students will take what works for them and apply it to these research projects. Our end goal is that students learn these research and writing skills in a way that is relevant to their lives as learners and will prepare them for a college academic experience."
Thank you, as always, to Chuck Will for pictures.