Meaningful Research Creates Digital Experts

by Dr. Sumit bangia, Supervisor of Humanities and Maria Benz

Students today are often considered digital natives because they have been exposed to technology from a young age. There is a two-fold assumption with regard to digital natives; that these students have the necessary skills to engage with technology, and that they use technology in a meaningful way. Despite these assumptions, it remains imperative that our teachers model explicit instruction to ensure students navigate the digital landscape appropriately and effectively. Immersing students in research allows them to practice vital skills while using emerging technology productively.

Today’s research process extends beyond retrieving information. Students interact with a variety of sources that serve many purposes. This helps them become critical consumers of information. They learn not to accept all information as fact but to evaluate its accuracy. This empowers students to create new meaning based on credible data retrieved in the research process. The Verona School District then challenges students to apply this meaning to real world concepts, which aids them in becoming successful beyond the classroom setting.

The school media specialist, Maria Benz, in collaboration with teachers in the humanities department at Verona High School, engages students in this new research outlook. By integrating research tools, such as databases and advanced Google Search-ing, with an understanding of students’ searching methods, students now focus on the research process, rather than the end product. In history classes, students used research guides and timelines to examine one historical event from multiple perspectives. Students have also examined other forms of media, such as historical images and primary sources, to develop a specific thesis. In English classes, students created a context for literature by examining historical relevance, social movements, and literary theory that connected to the text.

One project that captures this shift in thinking is the 10th grade English “Research for Change” project. In collaboration with Ms. Benz, English teachers Ms. DeMaio and Ms. Vogel had students identify an issue they felt passionately about. Students used research as a vehicle for discovery to find the root cause of the problem. Using the information they found, they developed an “end goal”, or a creative way to demonstrate what they discovered. The open-ended nature of the project allowed students to think outside the box. Examples of end goals included school-wide social media campaigns, community events, fundraisers, and student-based groups.

Specifically, one group of students wanted to educate residents of the benefits of cooking healthy food by creating a website and a social media campaign. Another individual student researched the effects of stress on teens, and with what she had discovered, founded and directed a VHS student support group. Lastly, another student used his passion for gaming to research the benefits and cost of video games. This research led to a video game drive to help the Verona Public Library expand its growing collection. Reflecting on their experiences, students began to observe how academic research skills could be applied to projects with our school and community.

The Research for Change project not only taught students practical and academic skills, such as disseminating information and various forms of literacy, but also encouraged students to take ownership of their work in creative and “real” ways. Students felt empowered throughout the process because they were allowed to follow their passion, to proactively plan and execute ideas, and to think reflectively when setbacks occurred. For the 2016-2017 school year, with the support of the Verona Foundation for Educational Excellence (VFEE), the Research for Change project will reach new heights by providing students with the budgetary support to fulfill their end goals.

The Verona Public School District is dedicated to supporting and expanding upon these vital learning experiences. This will help ensure our students leave our schools with the necessary skills and knowledge to navigate the digital landscape in academic settings and beyond. It is through meaningful research that our students—already digital natives—evolve into digital experts.

Click here to read more articles in the Verona Public Schools Magazine 2016-2017 Edition.