A First-Grade Research Report? Really?

killer whale pictureAt the ripe old age of seven, my son has just completed a report on killer whales. In first grade, we have to write research reports? Already?

I fully support learning that the library is a treasure trove of all sorts of wonderful information. I like the independence of getting to choose your own topic. I’m wary, however, of the work required of the parent to help a 7-year-old navigate the thicket of information on the internet. And isn’t it a little complex for a first-grader to gather information, analyze it, synthesize it and produce a cogent response?

I refused to help Eddie type in some long complicated web address, and it took him five minutes to get all the slashes and dots and html bits punched in. I knew I had gone too far in my passive-aggressive nonassistance when he finally got one site typed in, and it wouldn’t work.

“This site is terrible! I’m no good at this! I give up!” he whined.

I knew it was time to put supper on simmer and sit down and help.

When I was a kid and wanted to join Cub Scouts – because friends at school were signing up, too – my mother refused. It takes too much work for the parent, she said. I was upset at the time and had to wait until I was 10 to join Boy Scouts. There, I got to play with work with sharp objects and fire and other dangerous things, with a great deal of independence. It was worth the wait.

With the first-grade research report, however, that wasn’t going to work.

I sat down next to Eddie and helped find the one letter he’d left out of a long web address, which he had selected from a list of a half-dozen his teacher gave him. Then we clicked on a link about orcas, and my heart sank. There was a ton of information all over the screen – plus more links – plus advertisements. All this is typical for Web sites I use, and I’m used to ignoring half of what’s in front of me. But how on earth do I help him sift through the chatter for what is relevant? Awk!

He found some useful facts about killer whales, and then we hit another bump in the road.

How do you attribute information you find on the internet?

When I graduated from college in 1995, the Web was in diapers. The 60-page senior thesis I wrote en francais (it almost killed me) was solely the product of stacks and stacks of books I lugged home from the library. Internet  research didn’t exist.

The worksheet from Eddie’s teacher had a space to jot down facts, plus a blank to write down the source and page. How do you say what page of a Web site something came from?

I went to stir supper and left it up to Eddie. This is going to take all night, and we’re going to have the worst research report in the whole class. Boy, don’t I sound like my 7-year-old? He managed to write down three facts in about 45 minutes, and I decided that was more than enough. Take that, teacher!

A few weeks later, I was volunteering in his class, and they were working on their research reports. The day’s task was to cut apart the fact worksheets and group them by topic, such as habitat and food. I saw Eddie had a page and a half of facts – more than a dozen – which about as many as his classmates had. Apparently, they had been working on the report during library time at school!

I didn’t feel like such an unhelpful curmudgeon.

A week or so later, Eddie talked about writing a first draft. This week he wrote the final draft. I can’t wait to see the real thing.

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