Monday, March 25, 2013

Research Skills

Kal-El announced that he wanted to learn "how to research."  It took me about a week to pull everything together for him and every day I heard, "Are we ready to start learning how to research yet today?"  Basically Kal-El wants to know how to answer his own questions.  Whenever he asks me a question and I don't know the answer (and sometimes when I do) I say "I don't know, we'll have to research that."  He was ready to start answering some of those questions himself.  

One of my first jobs was to provide him a safe place to do his research without running to the library every day (We were at the library every day last week.  Phew!).  Look what I found!

I have been watching Craigslist for encyclopedias on and off for the past year.  For those of you who are wondering what is typical, I usually saw sets from the 60's and 70's going for about $40.  When Kal-El started pestering me about doing "research" I looked again and was thrilled to find a fresh listing of 1993 World Books for FREE.  They are like new!  If you bought a new set of these it would run $1200.  I was a little deflated when my husband laughed at me and said that was irrelevant because nobody buys encyclopedias anymore.  The woman who gave them to me did ask me if I was cutting them up for some kind of project and wondered what I would be making.  She was super surprised when I told her we planned on using them.

I will say this, if we had paid $40 for them we would have easily gotten our money's worth out of them in just the first week.  Sitting around and reading the encyclopedia is a new favorite pastime around here.

The next order of business was to procure a dictionary.  This was tricky.  I put ten different dictionaries (several levels across several brands) to try to find the right type. Most "beginner" or "primary" dictionaries are formated perfectly but have too few words in them.  Most of the words in them were words the boys already know and wouldn't need to look up.  I don't know what kind of kid those dictionaries are for really.  The vocabulary is too limited for Kal-El's needs already but at any point before this he didn't have need of a dictionary...if that makes any sense.

At any rate, I have a used dictionary ordered based on a friend's recommendation and won't be here for a few weeks.  In the meantime, the DK/Merriam-Webster Children's Dictionary was the clear winner and the library copy has a place on our bookshelf for now.

The long-term goal, of course, is for Kal-El to start with a topic and end with some kind of visible evidence of what he learned.  One my albums has a "Library Research Strategies" chart in the back that he will eventually be able to use.  It delineates six steps and many questions to ask yourself for each step to help with the process.  When Kal-El gets to that stage I will make him a chart or something that boils that information down to these beginner steps:

Task Definition.  What needs to be done?
Information Seeking Strategies.  What resources will I use?
Location and Access.  Where can I find the resources?
Use of Information.  What and how will I use the information I find?
Synthesis.  What can I make to finish the job?
Evaluation.  How will I know I did my job well?

However, there is definitely a road to be traveled before we get to that point.  Fortunately, Jessica wrote a couple of pages to add to her Keys of the Universe theory album that does a good job of drawing a picture of what a self-directed and creative young researcher will look like in the end and of summarizing the skills the child needs to acquire in order to get there.  Before he can start turning out fabulous, deep, creative, multi-material presentations on a topic he needs to learn simple things like "how to use a dictionary," "how to use an encyclopedia," and "how to use a library."  To do any of those things he has to have a deeper understanding of alphabetization.

Another set of albums I have had a few really great pages in the language arts section that focuses on these fundamental skills.  There is a great "Dewey Decimal System Story" that ties the Dewey categories to the "fundamental needs of man" work in a memorable way.  There are also great Montessori presentations for alphabetizing, guide words (in dictionaries and encyclopedias), encyclopedia work, and a page of dictionary command card suggestions.  These are all great and very traditional mostly involving the sorting of cards and recording work in the child's language journal.

I also have the disc of NAMC blackline masters for lower elementary.  Those materials include 27 pages of research skills works in more of a worksheet format.  If you don't wish to use anything looking like a worksheet, the works could easily be copied onto cards.  These worksheets are a good example of the fact that sometimes the only difference between a worksheet and a "Montessori work" is how much work Mom has to do to make it, LOL!  You'll see what I mean.  Anyway, I avoid worksheets like the plague but left these works as is...except binding them into a book of course.

The 27 NAMC pages are in the front. I put in a colored divider and put copies of the album pages from the albums I mentioned earlier in the back so I could find the work quickly.

Kal-El loves to lounge around working on his "research skills."

Some of the pages work on deepening understanding of the alphabetic principle.

Some pages actually do provide cards to cut out and alphabetize.

There are a lot of pages that have short lists of words to number according to alphabetical order.  It took him through alphabetizing by only first letter, then by second, and eventually by third letter and a MIX of these.

For the easy steps it didn't matter what format the work was in.  For the harder ones, cards that can be manually sorted on a mat really are better than numbering words or writing a list on a worksheet.  After he mangled writing the days of the week in alphabetical order I borrowed our "days of the week" cards from the history basket and had him do the work on the mat. As you can see that went well.

In the course of two or three days Kal-El made it quickly through the alphabetization work.  This week he will be moving into strategies to improve his dictionary navigation speed  such as "first half vs. second half" and using guide words.

There is a lot more work to do.  I'll continue to share as he continues this work and I'll show you the more traditional Montessori presentations I make/give on this topic as I work through the album pages.  

Happy researching! Montessori Monday


  1. Wow! What great work! Research is something that we have been doing a lot of with our side method of Project Based Homeschooling (You really should check out the book if you can it has great ideas for kids to start their research). I love the idea of the Dewey Decimal System story. Where did you say you had that? Bunny and I are in the library several time a week and having a better idea of the decimal system would be very helpful to her (and me)! I love the ideas you have for learning to research and the encyclopedias! I was looking for smaller type research books for the girls. It is just too hard to find a little something on everything! I just don't have the space for all the encyclopedias! It sounds like you are all having a wonderful week!

  2. Good Stuff! I have been trying to score for ages on an encyclopedia set. Congratulations! I definitely know how a child can still want to touch and research. Sometimes the act of weeding through information unlocks the door to enter somewhere else. The internet is great, but it can never replace Old School learning.

    Thank you for sharing.

  3. Awesome post! Curious to know, why would we need to know the Dewey dec. system? Most libraries have search on the computer facilities, so I was wondering why we would need that?

  4. You can use the search option at the library, but then to find the book itself on the shelves, you'll need to know the numbers. And I'll say from my own experience as well as that of my son - if he knows that birds are in a particular number, he can go right to it at any given library without having to use the computer to look up the number first. He knows a few numbers within the group of 10s; a VERY few within their decimal fraction numbers; but does know the overall system so that he has an idea which general areas to start looking in.

    This also helps when looking at search results - if a number comes up that doesn't fit the pattern, then it is very likely on a very different topic but has some of the same keywords -- and we'll avoid those (had some, well, terrible experiences that way... it really wasn't good....).

  5. Stephanie,

    The Dewey Decimal Story was in the Mid America album and it doesn't have enough information to actually USE it (unless I guess), which is typical of that album. I am actually planning on asking around on Montessori Online to see if anyone has some more information on it. The encyclopedias mercifully only took up ONE shelf (27 linear inches) in the school room. I too had been trying to amass a collection of other research books (and you've seen the home research library so you know I have) and still had holes. But, not everyone needs a set of their own encyclopedias...that IS what libraries are for after all. I know the WTM forum always recommends the online subscription/disc version. I just don't want the boys on the computer.

    When I get more Dewey info I'll share.

  6. MTTP:

    Jessica covered it for me :) As DM touched on, sometimes wandering through an encyclopedia to find an article leads you to happen upon OTHER learning. We feel the same way about the library...sometimes searching the stacks by topic without circling in on a specific call number leads us to reading about something we wouldn't have otherwise.

    I want the boys to understand how and why the library is organized the way it is. They don't necessarily have to memorize the numbers (I forgot them all once I spent a zillion years using Library of Congress labeling instead) but they do need to understand the principles of its organization. Plus, everything that Jessica said. The reason you can USE the call number the computer spits out is because you have a general understanding of the organization.

    Oh, and our library computers are notoriously down. And their brand new, state-of-the-art search program makes it nearly impossible for me to find appropriate resources anymore. If I want to read about "tigers" I have to click on 10 different things to even wind up on "non-fiction" "children's" books and then I have to weed through 10 DVD entries and 12 electronic resources until I can just find a BOOK. I'm not a fan. In that time I could have just walked up to the "science" section and visually scanned for "mammals" and then alphabetically find "tigers."

  7. Ohh, research...t is getting into this, and I am starting to wonder how I am going to furnish him, guide him to??, resources that are not on a computer. The albums always say, research, but do any point to any sources? How could they really when the child could pick anything to research. I was thinking of encyclopedias as a starting point, so that at least he could pick up some key words to give to a librarian, or online catalogue. What have you found for resources? And T also did that alphabetization thing at the beginning of the year, though he did it with Ninjago carsds. I thought my hand was going to fall off making so many because he kept demanding more...

    1. We go to library pretty much weekly and Kal-El keeps a running list of topics. We have a lot of broad-brush types of books in our home library in addition to the encyclopedia. The things we have in the house are just to tide us over until we get to the library. I'll have to write a post on the contents of our home library soon.