I appreciate that you're final product incorporated 21st century skills. But your title "How to make writing research papers relevant to students" also got me thinking about the changing process of research. When I was in school, research skills meant being able to use the card catalog for the limited books available in our small school library. With the development of the internet and search engines, research was no longer about just matching to info on a card to the right book on the self. We had to be able to sort through volumes of sites and determine what was quality information and what was junk. Then came Wikipedia and we could not just consume but contribute to the collection of information. And now we have Diigo and other social bookmarking tools that allow us to share the valuable resources we find. The highlighting and posit-notes tools allow us to interact with the text, but more importantly it allows you to read what I thought was most important about the page and skip the rest.
So my question is have the projects we assign students also evolved with these new tools? Or are we still asking students to jump through the same hoops? Are we ready to accept that being able to effectively do research (or find information) is no longer a task I do in isolation, but rather something I do within my personal learning network? Granted not all information can be found within our communities and we still need to be proficient at searching the vast oceans of the world wide web for the buried treasures we seek. But it seems to me that social bookmarking is as much of a game changer as search engines were. Perhaps the social nature of this tool will help make research more relevant and engaging for some students than the historical isolated research process of our own educational experiences.
Two years ago I purchased an ancestry database for our library and put our seniors to work researching their family history. This became our MLA formatted senior research paper and we've seen students pulling together everything from census records and enlistment records to ship manifests and Ellis Island records to piece together who their family was and how they fit into the world from their tiny part of the planet. The project requires interviewing family members and researching the times and places their research leads them. They have been in every database I have and scour the internet. It is the perfect time to explore themselves- just before they head out into the world on their own. Parents and family members often comment it is the best project they have ever seen and they love the chance to talk to the students one on one before they leave the nest. I have yet to encounter a student who was not successful no matter what their background and I find that our exchange students enjoy the project even more than the others.
I am teaching a group of students going into the 11th grade at Upward Bound this summer. I assigned a research essay to them as a final project and they told me they had never written an essay like this before. I had to take a step back in my planning and teach them from beginning to end on how to organize and write this essay. This should be taught so much earlier. I feel it is a great learning experience for them as this program prepares students for college. I had high expectations for them and still do but had to adjust my entire plan to help them learn the basics so that they can prepare and write a good essay.
This can be an enormous problem when you're trying to do serious research on the internet. Too much information is almost worse than too little, because it takes so much time to sort through it to see if there's anything useful. The rest of this section will give you some pointers to help you become an effective internet researcher.
Before you start a research session, make a new folder in your bookmarks or favorites area and set that folder as the one to receive new bookmark additions. You might name it with the current date, so you later can identify in which research session the bookmarks were made. Remember you can make a bookmark for a page you haven't yet visited by holding the mouse over the link and getting the popup menu (by either pressing the mouse button or right clicking, depending on what flavor computer you have) to "Add bookmark" or "Add to favorites." Before you sign off your research session, go back and weed out any bookmarks which turned out to be uninteresting so you don't have a bunch of irrelevant material to deal with later. Later you can move these bookmarks around into different folders as you organize information for writing your paper—find out how to do that in your browser.
Be sure you can use your browser's "Go" list, "History" list, "Back" button and "Location" box where the URL can be typed in. In Web research, you're constantly following links through to other pages then wanting to jump back a few steps to start off in a different direction. If you're using a computer at home rather than sharing one at school, check the settings in your "Cache" or "History list" to see how long the places you've visited will be retained in history. This will determine how long the links will show as having been visited before (i.e, purple in Netscape, green in our site). Usually, you want to set this period of time to cover the full time frame of your research project so you'll be able to tell which Web sites you've been to before.
Choose a color to represent a research topic and give each student a card in that color to record their discoveries. For example, an invention timeline might include a card from each child that records an invention and a date. (And for younger students, you can write in some of the information yourself on the cards to make the research easier.
Children in grades 2 and 3 benefit from memory aids, so try playing a password game when they visit the library. Give students a clue at the beginning of the period, and then ask for the answer — their "password" — as they exit. For example, I might give this clue: the name of the person who decided how to organize all these books. (Students will really hang on to Dewey's first name: Melvin!) Students who guess incorrectly can listen to the next child in line and try again.
For each new area of study, repeat this exercise with a different color: for example, I use green for authors/illustrators, blue for Olympic events, orange for art, red for space. Encourage students to browse the evolving time line throughout the year. The color-coded cards make it easy for them to see what else was happening at the time of whatever they are researching.
Arguments in academic writing are usually complex and take time to develop. Your argument will need to be more than a simple or obvious statement such as “Frank Lloyd Wright was a great architect.” Such a statement might capture your initial impressions of Wright as you have studied him in class; however, you need to look deeper and express specifically what caused that “greatness.” Your instructor will probably expect something more complicated, such as “Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture combines elements of European modernism, Asian aesthetic form, and locally found materials to create a unique new style,” or “There are many strong similarities between Wright’s building designs and those of his mother, which suggests that he may have borrowed some of her ideas.” To develop your argument, you would then define your terms and prove your claim with evidence from Wright’s drawings and buildings and those of the other architects you mentioned.
Most material you learn in college is or has been debated by someone, somewhere, at some time. Even when the material you read or hear is presented as simple “fact,” it may actually be one person’s interpretation of a set of information. Instructors may call on you to examine that interpretation and defend it, refute it, or offer some new view of your own. In writing assignments, you will almost always need to do more than just summarize information that you have gathered or regurgitate facts that have been discussed in class. You will need to develop a point of view on or interpretation of that material and provide evidence for your position.
Claims can be as simple as “Protons are positively charged and electrons are negatively charged,” with evidence such as, “In this experiment, protons and electrons acted in such and such a way.” Claims can also be as complex as “The end of the South African system of apartheid was inevitable,” using reasoning and evidence such as, “Every successful revolution in the modern era has come about after the government in power has given and then removed small concessions to the uprising group.” In either case, the rest of your paper will detail the reasoning and evidence that have led you to believe that your position is best.
Be consistent with your evidence. Unlike negotiating for the use of your parents’ car, a college paper is not the place for an all-out blitz of every type of argument. You can often use more than one type of evidence within a paper, but make sure that within each section you are providing the reader with evidence appropriate to each claim. So, if you start a paragraph or section with a statement like “Putting the student seating area closer to the basketball court will raise player performance,” do not follow with your evidence on how much more money the university could raise by letting more students go to games for free. Information about how fan support raises player morale, which then results in better play, would be a better follow-up. Your next section could offer clear reasons why undergraduates have as much or more right to attend an undergraduate event as wealthy alumni—but this information would not go in the same section as the fan support stuff. You cannot convince a confused person, so keep things tidy and ordered.