Seeking to revise his district's guidelines for student research papers, Patrick Higgins asked a series of questions today on Twitter. His search for curricular relevance led to some reflective thinking on my part.
Patrick began by wondering, "Should we be teaching our students the Dewey Decimal System?"
As a School Library Media Specialist, I deal with this system daily in my professional life. Dewey numbers are standard in most K-12 and public libraries. There are, however, other ways to categorize and arrange material, including the Library of Congress classifications that students will encounter in research and academic libraries.
I don't feel that it's necessary for anyone to memorize Dewey numbers. Traditional and online catalogs provide the "address" of a book; all students need to understand is how to interpret the information to find what they are seeking.
The key concept is organization: how are things ordered for ease of access?
When asked to design their own grouping method, students in my classes have come up with some interesting suggestions:
- by color
- by size
- by number of words
- by weight
- by gender of the author
- by smell or taste (!)
Knowing the reason for the Dewey Decimal System is the key concept; the numbers themselves are only symbols.
Patrick next asked, "Should we be teaching them how to manually prepare a works cited page?"
This question was debated by some of the classroom teachers and librarians from our regional BOCES. The majority of us felt that using a tool like Citation Machine is perfectly appropriate. Few adults remember the finer points of citation formatting; why agonize over something that can be done better online?
I posed a question of my own, "Will it still be a research PAPER or will there be a choice of outcomes: e.g. Senior Projects like these?" to which Patrick responded, "This is for English classes: very traditional situation. Paper, undoubtedly."
Senior Projects are usually built over the entire four years of high school. They might begin with a research paper, then expand to encompass some type of culminating physical project and a presentation.
These projects embody the spirit of Inquiry-based Learning, a constructivist philosophy "driven more by a learner's questions than by a teacher's lessons." This approach allows students to become experts in their chosen topic, giving them a positive motivation for pursuing knowledge that is relevant to them.
Patrick ended by asking for more information about Zotero, "a free, easy-to-use Firefox extension to help you collect, manage, and cite your research sources." Obviously, he is still exploring, weighing his options, searching for the best possible tools and most relevant content.
I hope that he shares his final product with us. In the meantime, I've benefited immensely from using his questions to examine my own professional practice.
"When you stop learning, stop listening, stop looking and asking questions, always new questions, then it is time to die." -Lillian Smith
"Ant at Work" by DavidDennis