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PROFESSIONAL LEARNING TEAM REPORT 2011-2012 PLT Title Social Studies Research Projects Blurb for PLT Conference Brochure This presentation is about incorporating Common Core writing standards (2 and 8) with social studies projects in the fourth grade. The research-based projects target the regions of the United States and require students to gather, organize, and present information in several different formats to develop and strengthen their informational writing skills. Contact Information (Write * next to facilitator’s name.) Name School Grade Level or Subject Melissa Crough Winn Brook Grade 4 Brie Graber Winn Brook Grade 4 Kristin Knutson* Winn Brook Grade 4 Erica Ross Winn Brook Grade 4 Guiding Theme Differentiated Instruction/RTI Integrated, Real-Life Experiences Acquisition of 21st Century Skills Deepening Teacher Content Knowledge Improving School Climate/Culture Teaching the “Whole Student” Other (explain) _______________________________________________________ Inquiry Question How do we implement research based learning projects/activities in social studies in order to develop and strengthen our students’ research and informational writing skills (Common Core Writings standards 2 and 8)? Process In social studies in fourth grade we teach students about the 5 regions of the United States (northeast, southeast, midwest, southwest, and west). At the beginning of the year, we chose 5 research-based projects that required them to study these regions. As we began the projects, we realized how time- consuming they ended up being, and therefore have not been able to complete all of them. So far this year, we have completed two of the regions (northeast and southeast). For the northeast project, students were required to research and take notes on land, economy, and culture from a variety of sources. They demonstrated their learning in partnerships by creating posters that included pictures, maps, facts, and paragraphs. The southeast project consisted of individual research on specific land, culture, and economy topics. This research was more in depth. The end result was a brochure of the region that included informational paragraphs, maps, pictures/captions, and facts about states, capitals, and major cities. For each project, we created checklists and rubrics to help guide students and make expectations for the product clear. Findings We found that students were in need of direct instruction on note-taking skills, including how to locate information in a nonfiction resource, how to take notes from a paragraph of information, and how to organize and synthesize their notes to compose an informational piece of writing. These skills are very closely tied to the Common Core standards (2 and 8) for fourth grade. We had not done a project with our students that required them to use these skills previously, and so we did not have a baseline to compare our results with. In the two projects that we have completed, we found that our students improved greatly in their ability to research and compose informational writing from the first to the second project. In the northeast project, students needed a high level of modeling and worked together with a partner. Their writing was brief. From having experienced the northeast project, we noticed that students were better able to take notes for the southeast project. They did still benefit from a high level of modeling and support throughout this project, but they were able to go more in depth and started taking notes with more independence. Unfortunately, we have not been able to complete a third project to see if they continue gaining more independence with these skills. Recommendations / Next Steps As we worked through the PLT process and introduced these projects to our students, we realized how much modeling, explicit instruction, and support our students needed in order to complete the assignments to the expectations that we laid out. When we use the projects and materials we have gathered next year, we plan to start the project with a higher level of modeling and support at the beginning so that students are able to gradually take on more responsibility. We also may start with a simpler project and move on to the more complex projects as the students gain informational writing skills.
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