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The Science Department have often asked their 1st year classes to research an element of the Periodic Table. Last year was the first time any of them had used the Library for the investigation (reason being that their own computer suite was unavailable, so they decided to slum it).

Naturally I was delighted, and brought out a load of relevant materials. The teacher in question was thrilled: where had all this stuff come from? I just grinned: Secret Powers, don’t you know! Every other class had already finished that particular unit, so further developments had to wait for this year.

This week, one lovely teacher replied to my invitation and we had a blether. She explained her concerns, about her class and their lack of researching and presentation abilities, and I suggested ways around the diffculties, like using a mind-map to remind them of what they’ve to find and to keep their notes, linking to specific websites and using the encyclopaedias. I demonstrated that the Library catalogue was already keyworded extensively, so many elements would be traceable there (sorry, can’t resist bad puns). The teacher had collected some periodic tables from a conference which listed symbols, atomic numbers, boiling points and melting points, so I suggested we use them first to remind the class how to lay out information on a mind-map.

*whispers* In return I got lovely comments about how she was going to live in the Library from now on because the Library made everything so much better than a teacher could, but that would be showing off so I won’t mention it 😀

A lot of pupils find it difficult to start any kind of notes, so the teacher and I asked questions about what the class thought should be included in this investigation, and drew a mind-map on the Smartboard, adding headings as we talked through it, encouraging the class to copy it as we went along, and leaving space for them to ‘fill-in-the-blanks’. But this is a fill-in-the-blanks exercise with added bonus features: the information is better organised, easier to write up into another format and there’s still plenty of room for individual interest and space to expand.

At least that’s the plan.

The organisation is certainly better, and they’re finding the information to complete the branches of the maps, but that’s all  they’re doing. They’re hunting purely for that information which fills the gaps and ignoring everything around it; useful information is being left out, because they want to find just one thing at a time instead of arranging material as they find it.

We want them to be hunter-gatherers, identifying and picking information as they discover it, so how do we go about that? And more to the point, how do we encourage that behaviour while also encouraging the careful arrangement of information and maintain their interest???

Let me get back to you, I’m still thinking.

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