The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 29, 2009

Sixth graders develop research skills

Asking questions and documenting answers are skills that Carlisle School’s sixth graders are honing, the Carlisle School Committee learned at their May 20 meeting. The students have just finished the Asia and Africa Research Project, an interdisciplinary unit on impoverished nations introduced last year.

English Language Arts teacher Donna Clapp explained that students gain skills in evaluating sources. They also learn about plagiarism and how to paraphrase information, cite consulted works and construct a well-planned research paper. Clapp teaches that elaborated paragraphs are the key to a good research paper and gave them a name: FREDs (Facts, Reasons, Examples and Details). Students learn how to start a paper with a topic sentence, how to transition from one paragraph to the next, how to introduce topics within a paper and how to construct a concluding paragraph.

Social Studies

Clapp and Special Educator Trish Comeau, speaking for Social Studies teacher Erin Rooney who was unavailable for the meeting, explained that students studied countries in Africa and Asia, learning key terms such as democracy, centralized government, colonialism and gross domestic product. During the project the teacher to student ratio is 1:9, said Comeau. Three students are assigned the same country, which offers opportunities for students to have discussions about their country, and to share resources.

Clapp said topics that students may cover include the status of education, the political status of women, the availability of water and natural resources, and conflicts, as well as the growth and decline of civilizations.

Science and politics linked

Students learn the causes that lead to a cycle of poverty in the poorer nations, Comeau explained. Poor infrastructure, corrupt power, environmental degradation, natural disasters and warfare are some of the contributing factors. “For example,” said science teacher Wendy Stack, “the war in Sierra Leone.” Students learned about the connection between poverty and environmental degradation and the importance of biodiversity, Stack said. “We got them thinking about the idea that if one area of the environment is degraded, the reduction of that biodiversity can have far reaching effects.”

Looking at nations with deep poverty brought up some interesting discussions, said Stack. “We discussed the shuttle missions. Is it worth the cost?” Students became so concerned, she said, that over two thirds of them thought the money spent on shuttle missions should be spent on “fixing problems on earth.”

Math and technology

Math teacher Bill Gale said students analyzed their data, creating graphs and drawing conclusions based on their graphs. Students were introduced to Excel spreadsheet software, created a variety of graphs, and learned the use of mean, median and mode.

Internet usage high

“How much of the curriculum is on the internet?” asked committee member Louis Salemy. Comeau said there are three web pages for content area, and postings weekly. “We send emails once a week,” said Clapp, which preview coming assignments. “In math,” said Gale, “we have all assignments posted and a week in preview in case your students don’t want to tell you what is assigned.”

“The appeal of the technology for the kids is incredible,” said Gale. For example, Clapp said, while studying “sensitive subjects” during language arts classes, students can privately vote on an issue, and then a graph of their responses can be displayed. “It gives kids a voice.”

Stack said, “So much of science is on the internet. We’re starting geology now. My website links pages that kids can use to do research. If I had money with no limit, I would want more laptops and airports [wireless base stations]. Let’s face it. This is their language. They are used to looking at something and clicking. Their engagement increases when they have a laptop.” She said information is being updated exponentially on the Internet.

Committee member Dale Ryder said, “I have a daughter in sixth grade. She is having a fabulous year. I think the quality of our teachers is outstanding. I want to acknowledge you publicly.” ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito