June 27, 2003

Middle School Researchers Go Back in Time

Sweetwater students learn how to investigate the past

Seventh graders are getting ready for the rigors of high school—and even college—by learning about the day, the month and the year in which they were born. These students are being taught the steps of research through the “I Search” process, brought to life by the year-long federal Improving Literacy Through School Libraries grant.

All Sweetwater middle schools are incorporating the I Search program into their library services. Librarians and teachers work together as a team to take students step by step through the research process, from brainstorming the idea to putting the finishing touches on a presentation. All district middle school librarians—and a few from high school—were trained in the research procedures associated with “I Search.” Before, students used to head right for the Internet or the encyclopedia to look up a topic, now they know how to incorporate many sources into their research—including how to filter the information they can get from the World Wide Web.

Said Sweetwater Board President Arlie Ricasa, “It’s never too early for students to learn how to perform research and then reflect on the process. With this process, they are motivated to dig further for information and are encouraged by their own success.”

A Helping Hand. Bonita Vista Middle teacher Stephanie Yang gives a student some research guidance.

Teachers are using I Search in many ways. After seventh graders get their feet wet by learning about the time in which they were born, they can use the tools they have learned with other topics. World cultures students, after reading Samurai’s Tale by Erik Christian Hauguard, have spent hours learning about the warriors and Japanese tea ceremonies. Even other content area classes are getting in on the research action by incorporating some or all of the steps in their projects.

Students are learning the value of library resources that are often overlooked. They are learning how to best use almanacs for research and are understanding the value of indices and tables of contents—and that books cannot be judged by their titles alone. And middle school youth are learning that organization goes hand-in-hand with good research. Students were given bright orange folders to contain their notes and drafts. Months and months later, you can see the folders peeking out of their bags and arms as they stream in and out of the library.

“It helped prepare us for future research projects,” commented Bonita Vista Middle seventh grader Misa Howell. The level of research expected of secondary school students increases incrementally each year, and every tool students can be given to do in-depth, accurate investigation will help them in the long run.

Learning hasn’t stopped with the students, though. Teachers and librarians are learning more effective ways of communicating with each other and everyone is learning just how important libraries are to the entire education process.

Bonita Vista Middle librarian Barbara Wymer is thrilled with progress of the students, teachers and the librarians. “Librarians were somewhat isolated before. This grant has impacted everyone involved—librarians, teachers and students—in amazing ways.”

Wymer is so impressed with the enthusiasm she has seen in the students that she is planning a parent event for the fall associated with the grant. But instead of a simple evening where parents see their children’s work and have punch and cookies, she intends to put them to work. Parents will learn how to research the day, month and year when they were born—and write about it.

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