One of the things that students in my eighth grade communication arts classes dread (besides having listen to me) is the third quarter research project, which we began last Monday.
During this project, which lasts much of the quarter, the students immerse themselves in a topic, eventually turning out a 1,000-word minimum research paper, an oral presentation, and a multi-media presentation (powerpoint, video, audio, art, or some type of media).
The students spent last week in South Middle School's computer lab, researching whichever topic they selected. All topics this year had to deal with the civil rights movement.
One of the things I most eagerly anticipate each year is seeing the reaction of students when they dig up some of the items that were not available to students even a decade ago. Thanks to the miracle of the Internet I was able to watch as one girl began waving frantically and saying, "Mr. Turner, Mr. Turner, look at this." The girl, who was researching the murder of Emmett Till, was researching in the National Archives when she discovered a letter that Emmett Till's mother wrote to President Eisenhower urging him to do something about her son's murder.
Other students found their way to FBI files concerning the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, photos of the bus on which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat and was arrested, the arrest warrant in that case, Dr. King's letter from the Birmingham Jail, first-person accounts of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the freedom rides, and much, much more.
Some students, unfortunately, found themselves bored stiff even when mining such historical treasures, but those students are few. Most of the others were surprised when they were still turning up information on their topics on the fifth day of our five days on the Internet.
There are many bad things about the Internet, but each year that I have done this research project, the last three at South and the previous four at Diamond, I have been amazed at how much this medium has made available to student researchers that they could never have accessed before. In this way, these subjects can come alive to students as they never could before.
Now for the tough part. Today the students will organize the material they came up with last week, then beginning tomorrow we will spend some time researching in South's library, using the sometimes forgotten medium of books. The students must have at least two books in their bibliographies.
I can't wait for the moans and groans to begin.