information > ignorance

Ahh, late September-early October. It’s a common time to study apples, trees, fall, and Christopher Columbus. Yep, yep, yep, and…really?

We have a regular school day on October 13, and the children don’t celebrate the Columbus myth, but our 2nd graders are researching explorers (land, sea, and sky) right now. Their teachers felt a responsibility to set some time aside to help them come to new understandings about Columbus as well as their lives as young researchers.

I can’t share anything related to Columbus without linking to this amazing book. Using it as a springboard, we developed a library experience that teaches research through the content. Our goal was to have students consider how learners can better understand their subjects when they have more information. Important also was the idea that every researcher must follow her conscience to decide which information should be included in a report in order to tell a fair history.

So, how did we do this with a bunch of 2nd graders? First, we scheduled special library visits and made sure that any interested adults in our community were invited to be there during the sessions. Then we selected three excerpts from three separate Christopher Columbus books that were in our library. The excerpts were chosen because they had three varying levels of detail. We had giant organizer sheets that we used to document changes in thinking and new questions that came out of our reading and discussions.

When students first came into the library, we told them that we were going to do some research as a team. We asked, “What do we think we know about Columbus?” We recorded all of their comments, even the ones that contained inaccuracies or misconceptions. Then we read the first excerpt and had the children think, “Do we have any changes or updates? Do we have any more questions?” We did the same for the following two excerpts. Here is an example of what one group’s notes looked like:

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Carpenter, Eric, and John Himmelman. Young Christopher Columbus: Discoverer of New Worlds. Mahwah, NJ: Troll Associates, 1992. Print.

 

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Adler, David A., John Wallner, and Alexandra Wallner. A Picture Book of Christopher Columbus. New York: Holiday House, 1991. Print.
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Larkin, Tanya. Christopher Columbus. New York: PowerKids, 2001. Print.

After we read all three pieces, we looked back at our notes and asked,”What if we had only used one of these sources? What wouldn’t we know?” This is where our discussion really took offWe talked about how our ideas can change and grow as we learn more, and how helpful it can be to seek out information from a variety of sources with a variety of audiences, authors, and perspectives.

The children definitely left with more questions than answers, and we assured them that this is normal. We reminded them that they mustn’t feel pressure to answer every single question in their school projects, but that their questions can guide them as they do further research and exploration in school, at home, and in-between.

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