Monday, October 03, 2005

Personal Connection

Describe your personal approach to inquiry before starting this project. Reflect on how this has or has not changed during the scope of this project.

As I have mentioned earlier in this blog, my original approach to research was typical, I think, of the traditional methods. I expected, more or less, to be given a specific problem or question by someone else and then I went about answering it in the usual, research paper manner. There have been some exceptions to this, but not many. I have always used notes and outlines for compiling and organizing information, but a more visual tool such as a concept map would not have occured to me. I think I have always been fairly good at searching, evaluating, and processing information, I just didn't give any thought to the details of what I was doing. There has not been much meta-cognition in my research. I don't remember ever being asked to reflect on the research process after the product was finished. Since I was never asked, I don't think I ever gave it much formal thought. There was always the stress of "was it good enough?" but that is really about grades and success or failure. The product was always the point, and how I felt about the process was outside the scope, if not irrelevent.

So, I got my assignment, found my books in the library, took my notes, made my outlines, and wrote my double spaced paper. And I got rewarded for it with good grades. Pavlov would be proud of my conditioning. ;)

When doing personal information searches, my thought process has been even less formal. I never felt a need to give deep thought to the details. I would just find the information that I needed.

I started out trying to do the research paper approach here, almost in spite of myself. When that became clear to me, I then reverted to my usual informal personal search mode. It was a bit difficult to get going in the right direction and feel confident in my approach.

I don't think I will ever look at research projects quite the same way again. :) My personal approach to inquiry has definitely become more thoughtful through the course of this project. I don't know that I would go through every step of the 8Ws (or any of the other models) every time I need information for a personal reason, but I think I will at least be more aware of the underlying process. When it comes to planning inquiry projects, either for myself or for students, I will definitely be a better researcher and teacher of research. I think in the end, all these steps will help me be a more efficient researcher as well, even though at times in this project I haven't felt very efficient. I can see now where I stumbled and where trying one of the scaffolds or other ideas would have helped, or helped more if I had used them more effectively. For example, I think I will use concept maps and flow charts more often to visualize my thoughts and questions.

It is tough to break out of such well-established habits. I think inquiry is something that I will need to continue to practice before it gets to be second nature, but the effort will be worthwhile.

Curriculum Connection

Indiana 6th Grade Social Studies Standard 6.1.2

"Trace the major developments and achievements of the Roman Republic and the rise and expansion of the Roman Empire."

AASL Information Literacy Standards 1,2,3, and 8

1. "The student who is information literate accesses information efficiently and effectively."
2. "The student who is information literate evaluates information critically and competently."
3. "The student who is information literate uses information accurately and creatively."
8. "The student who contributes positively to the learning community and to society is information literate and practices ethical behavior in regard to information and information technology."

For this project, I would brainstorm with the class a list of what they know about Ancient Rome. With their help, I would then group the list into broad categories such as Art & Architecture, Military & Wars, Government, Great Thinkers, Social Customs, etc. I would ask the students to brainstorm a few questions about Ancient Rome that they would like to have answered. Then each student would formulate his or her own question. It could be contained within one category or it could make connections between two or more categories. For example, if a student wanted to know how such huge buildings were built without the aid of modern machinery, he or she could research building techniques and architects of the period, as well as why the government commissioned large public buildings. A student who wanted to know what it was like to be a gladiator could research social attitudes toward bravery in battle, the public acceptance of grusome public executions, and laws concerning slavery.

The inquiry project itself would look much like the one I have just completed. I would ask for a journal of the process. I would use the worksheets for guiding the research process found in Stipling and Hughes-Hassell [1]. I would ask students to use graphical organizers such as those listed at eduscapes [2] to help focus the topic, and that they create an interesting final product that makes good use of the information. At the conclusion, I would have the students present their findings in a "Day at the Forum" fair for other students and parents.

Indiana Academic Standards for High School Social Studies - World History and Civilization WH 6.2

"Describe the main themes and achievements of the Renaissance, including its impact on science, technology, and the arts (Individuals, Society, and Culture)."

AASL Information Literacy Standards 1,2,3, and 8

1. "The student who is information literate accesses information efficiently and effectively."
2. "The student who is information literate evaluates information critically and competently."
3. "The student who is information literate uses information accurately and creatively."
8. "The student who contributes positively to the learning community and to society is information literate and practices ethical behavior in regard to information and information technology."

It would be easy to transform the above inquiry project into one focusing on the Renaissance instead of Ancient Rome. I would also add a different twist to the project.

I would begin this project in a similar manner, by brainstorming with the class what they already know about the Renaissance. When we have a list, I would ask them to organize the ideas into broad categories. I think this would help them to see connections and make new ones. For example, if Galileo was named and then put into a category like Science, then it would be easier to see how Galileo relates to others in his own category and also see how Galileo might relate to other categories like Religion.

I would ask the students to come up with a question they would like to answer regarding the Renaissance and then pretend they were going to travel to Italy to investigate this topic firsthand. Where would they go? What would they do when they got there? What kind of background research should they do before they go? What resources would they use? I would provide mini-lessons on search strategies, using a variety of sources, evaluation of sources, and how to cite different sources.

Again, I would have the students keep a process journal, use the research process worksheets [1], and use graphical organizers [2]. The product could take many forms such as a travel brochure, a travelogue/trip slideshow in either PowerPoint or on the web, a pathfinder to resources, etc.

----Sources Cited----

[1] Stripling, Barbara K. and Hughes-Hassell, Sandra. (2003). Curriculum Connections Through the Library, p. 151-154.

[2] Lamb, Annette. Learning Resources: Graphical Organizers. []. Accessed on October 3, 2005.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


Time for some reflection on the process as a whole. I think it went pretty well. :)

In the Process: My strong suits in the process of this project were probably Webbing (searching) and Wrapping (creating). These are places where I had prior experience, which meant I was more comfortable in these phases.

In the Product: I think the strengths of my project are that I am now armed with some specific knowledge that I didn't have before. I have a plan for travel with my son that I can develop into a specific itinerary as the date of the trip gets nearer. I have the resources to continue the search or apply it to other locations if we decide to go elsewhere in Italy. For that matter, the general travel ideas will apply to other places, and I now have a good idea of how to find this type of information for other destinations. Another strength is, I hope, that the information applies to others besides myself.


In the process: Places where I struggled with this inquiry process were Watching (choosing a topic), Wondering (developing a focus), and Weaving (really giving thought to how I was applying what I had found).

When I was choosing a topic, I started to fall into the old habit of choosing something that would make a good paper, but the topic was too distant from my real information needs to be personally meaningful. Pulling a topic out of thin air is harder than you would think!

During the Wondering stage, I kept getting sidetracked by other parts of planning a trip of this magnitude, like hotel searches, when that really wasn't part of this project. It was pretty difficult to zoom in on just a few specific aspects of the larger topic.

Weaving gave me a little trouble simply because I am not used to really thinking about how I analyze and organize information. I just do it. It has always seemed like it was just one big leap from finding the information to presenting my findings, with maybe an outline or something similar as a guide. But there is really a lot going on at this stage. I don't usually stop to think about how I am making connections, so it was hard to slow down my thinking enough that I could see what was happening and write about it.

As I have been looking back at the worksheets for the research process in Stripling and Hughes-Hassell [1], I have worried that my project was not clearly falling into any of the relationships listed (cause and effect, application of a concept, influence, comparison). I guess I am an "other," but I don't know how I would describe the relationship that I am investigating. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I felt a little better about it after reading in the Research Cycle [2] literature about the importance of "how" questions. I'll quote it here again, just because it seems to belong in this reflection stage. "This question [how] is the basis for problem-solving and synthesis. Using questions to pull and change things around until a new, better version emerges." I really feel that this is what I've done with this project. Maybe I am applying a concept, the concept being that it is possible to balance the interests of everyone in the family to achieve a vacation where everyone is happy and has a little ownership. Then I found the particulars and applied them. Okay, there you go. I have a relationship. I think. ;)

What I Would Do Differently
I would make a concept map to help focus the topic much sooner!

How My Experience Was Like That of Young Students
Reflection is not something that I've had much practice with in an academic setting. It's really kind of a disquieting sensation at first, to be so meta-cognitive about everything. In my experience, emphasis of almost every kind has been on the end result, not how I got there, and the problem or question was almost always defined by the teacher. I think it is very likely that this is still an common experience for children in public schools. Unless they are lucky enough to have had practice at inquiry, I would guess they would especially struggle with choosing a topic and focusing it, like I did. As stressful as this has been at times, it will be valuable to relate on a personal level with what students are going through in this process.

How My Experience Was Unlike That of Young Students
I think I was better off in at least two areas than most elementary students would be. I have experience with Internet and database searching that most young children don't have. I have quite a bit of experience with building web pages, finding clipart, etc. I don't have any personal knowledge of what the typical middle or high school student knows in these areas, but I am assuming that most students would need specific instruction in how to accomplish these tasks. One other difference is that a young student would need to conduct a project such as this at a much slower pace to accommodate the support and supplementary instruction that would be necessary.

----Sources Cited----

[1] Stripling, Barbara K. and Hughes-Hassell, Sandra. (2003). Curriculum Connections Through the Library, p. 151-154.

[2] McKenzie, Jamie. The Question is the Answer. []. Accessed October 2, 2005.

Wrapping and Waving

I am using webpages to present my findings. I decided to make the lists I've created available to others because it is likely that there are plenty of other families traveling with children who might find them useful. The web seems like the most effective way to reach my audience. I've brought together suggestions and tips from seven different guidebooks and provided links to many helpful websites. It could really be a time-saver to find all the parts that are relevant to this particular problem in one place. I may even post the link on some bulletin boards like the one at Rick Steves' website.

This information is important to me because my goal is to make this a very special experience for my whole family. This trip may be a once in a lifetime experience (hopefully not, but it's a big world to see), and it's certainly going to be a large investment in terms of money, so I want to make the most of it. I especially don't want Liam to feel like he spent his vacation being dragged around Italy, enduring boring museums and wine tastings. I will do both of those things, but I want to make sure he isn't lost in the shuffle of either the adult interests or a quest to expose him to "culture." I have a feeling that these are challenges that are shared by other families, so this information could be important to others besides myself.

I hope that by creating lists and organizing them the way I have (general travel tips, then specific sites by region), they will be easy to access. My goal is not to write another travel guide, but to create something that could be printed out and tucked into a good travel guide.

Wrapping was one of the easiest stages for me. The web seemed the obvious medium for this information. I've created web pages before so I didn't have to struggle very much with the mechanics of it. Making the website "pretty" and easily navigable were the most time consuming aspects.

If I were going to ask a student to consider producing a webpage as a product, I would provide either web design software such as FrontPage or an HTML tutorial such as Webmonkey for Kids and lots of assistance as needed. I would also provide a list of good clipart sites (there are so many, and most of them are of poor quality) where good images could be found easily. This could also prompt a discussion of copyrights and how to abide by the laws and etiquette involved in using images created by someone else. I would provide guidelines for what I expect from the technology angle as well as content. I would also provide examples of well done sites and explain how to "view source" to learn from others. I would suggest the use of the Presentation Planning Checklist.

It has occurred to me during this stage in the process just how many different parts there are to the seemingly simple step of presenting the information. I like the way the 8Ws [1] breaks it down into two steps, creating (Wrapping) and sharing/presenting (Waving). I think they really are two separate steps. First you have to decide what the product will be and how to create it, and then you have to decide how to effectively share that product with others, if at all. I don't feel that this part of the process is as explicitly stated in most of the other models. For example, the Big6 [2], with its easy to remember catch phrases, does not mention creating at all. They jump straight from organizing the information to presenting. While creating is implied in presenting, I think it was helpful to me, and that it would be particularly helpful to children, to stop and think about what the choices are and which presentation method fits the information. Production scaffolds would be helpful in getting students to take a chance with a new medium or presentation method.

----Sources cited----

[1] Lamb, Annette. Ws of Information Inquiry. []. Accessed on October 2, 2005.

[2] The Big6 Associates. What is the Big6?. []. Accessed on October 2, 2005.

more Weaving


I feel like I have found and applied plenty of information that helps me address my key questions. To recap, the most polished version of my questions looks like this:

[A] How can I make this trip fun for both the adults and the kid? If the answer to this is "balance," (which I believe it is) then how do we create that balance between the interests of each person?

[B] How can I get Liam to expand his interests beyond ancient ruins (especially how do I help him to enjoy the art of Italy)?

[C] What should we do before we go to make the trip more enjoyable and rewarding?

I have found information that has helped me form a plan to address these issues. Much of my information comes from kid-centered travel guides written by parents who have traveled extensively with their children and offer practical advice on these very topics.


[A] I will plan this trip with my son as an active participant. I will realize that no matter how long we stay, I won't get to see everything in every museum. :) I will have to give up some of that to do some of what he wants to do, and in the end it will result in a more relaxing and fun trip for everyone. We will spend more time outdoors, at least a little more time on "non-educational" activities (although I do believe that travel is in and of itself educational). I will remember that Liam is going to be 12 years old and deserves to contribute to decision-making. His preferences count because it's his vacation, too.

[B] I have found some good suggestions about making museums more palatable. We'll read about art and artists beforehand, keeping it light and interesting. I think if he can place a piece of art in a historical time frame, see the references to history and mythology in artworks, and understand some of the processes of creating sculptures or frescoes, for example, then he will be more interested. We'll play games in museums, like "name that god" or "why this painting is better than the Mona Lisa." We'll spend more time on outdoor art where he can be loud and run around if he wants to. We'll seek out places with wacky art he'll appreciate, like the Stanze di Sant'Ignazio, with its perspective tricks.

[C] To prepare for the trip, I'll try to interest Liam in learning Italian phrases with me. I'm going to use a technique I've tried with great success with him before, which is to make up nonsense sentences that make him laugh. He memorizes them, and learns the vocabulary without really trying. He still remembers how to say "the cat in my bathroom plays the guitar" in Spanish. Not very useful perhaps, but he could say "bathroom?" and be understood. As we go along, though, I'll also talk to him in Italian, so he can recognize basic phrases. If he learns even just enough Italian to exchange hellos and order his own gelato, I think it will make the trip more fun for him.

We'll also do some reading beforehand. This is where the art history books for kids will come in. Other art related fiction like Chasing Vermeer will also be fun. I won't have any trouble at all getting him to read historical fiction. He already knows a lot about ancient Rome, but he has not been exposed to the Renaissance yet. I think books like A Travel Guide to Renaissance Florence will help, especially in setting up an understanding of other cities and time periods. I am going to read The Da Vinci Code with him. The role of art in solving the mystery will hook him for sure. I know he will have a lot of questions about the book, so we can look things up and discuss it together.

The key to all of this is simply going to be involving him and taking his preferences into account. He'll have his own list of "must see" sites, but we'll also have the list I've compiled to pull from. I really think this project will result in a different kind of trip for us, and it will be a better one.

One other thing I want to address is the selection of where we are going to visit. I felt that that part of the plan had to be done before I could really flesh out this project. I talked briefly with Bill and Liam about where they want to visit, but they haven't read the guidebooks as much as I have yet, so they were generally non-committal. With a little help from them, I came up with Rome (of course, thank you Liam), Florence (for me), rural Tuscany (it will be a slower pace, less of a set itinerary, and lots of spontaneous day trips, which has worked well for us before), and Cinque Terre, the less hectic small town version of the Italian Riviera where we can really sit still and soak up the culture, take walks, and swim. Bill only says he wants to stand on all seven of the hills of Rome. Other than that, he's flexible. :) I think we've struck a good balance.

These choices are of course subject to change in the next almost two years, but now I have the resources to add a kid-friendly focus to other destinations.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

More Wiggling and Weaving

I'm back with some new insights. I spent a couple of quality hours in Borders with Fodor's Around Rome with Kids, Take Your Kids to Europe, and Italy with Kids. They were all helpful to varying degrees. I didn't use any formal evaluation checklist, but I did consider several factors in weighing the relative merit of all of my sources. These include authority, currency, and whether it was really focused on kids (how helpful it was to my specific inquiry). As Callison suggests, I have been determining "[w]hat are the best sources in terms of access, authority, and age-appropriateness for me to use in addressing my information needs." [1]

I found Fodor's Around Rome with Kids to be the most useful of the three for specific recommendations of activities for kids. The other two books were more general travel guides (they also contained lodging and restaurant information, got a bit bogged down in describing the museums from an adult perspective, etc.) However, Take Your Kids to Europe does have several very helpful introductory chapters on topics like involving kids in planning; how to prioritize sightseeing; collaborative family decision making and giving the kids some control over the itinerary; and how to make art museums more interesting for children.

Honestly, I would suggest skimming these books and taking some notes, and then buying Rick Steves' guides. He gives much more specific information on the sites and the lodgings, restaurants, etc. I enjoy his writing style, which is very funny and sarcastic. He has two kids who travel with him to Europe (and specifically Italy) every single summer, so he includes a lot of details that kids will find interesting. He really seems like a big kid himself. He is well-respected for his travel knowledge, and his books are updated every year (more often online). For older kids (~ middle school), I would just hand them a copy of Europe 101: History and Art for the Traveler. He really makes it enjoyable.

I have been looking back at Kuhlthau's ISP model, and I can say that I am definitely experiencing the emotions she mentions in Step 5 - Information Collection. My interest level has really gone up since I actually started finding concrete examples of how to plan a good "kid-trip". It becomes more fun than work when you start see the fruits of your labor. There is still that nagging realization that there is so much left to do, however, especially with the deadline on this project looming. It's a strange mix of high interest and the urge to be done with it all. *grin* It's also very difficult not to focus too much on the end result. I am really having to restrain myself from using all my energy on the product instead of the process. It just goes to show how differently I've been conditioned in my studies. The product has always been the most important part!

Also like ISP, this is the stage where I have been taking lots of notes. I think it is a bit strange that Kuhlthau does not specifically mention a stage for organizing, synthesizing, or applying what one has learned. She skips right from collecting information to "search closure" and summary searches, and then to presenting. I suppose she is implying that the organizing and synthesis is going on during the collection stage, but it seems like that process is worth acknowledging explicitly. [2]

Even though the Big6 model considers organization of information and presentation to both be contained within the Synthesis category, at least they do mention a stage where some processing of information is going on. [3]


I did find a lot of good tips and suggested activities from the three kid-centered books. I spent a lot of time nodding and saying "that makes sense" to ideas like letting the kids make the sightseeing or restaurant decisions once in a while. Especially for older kids, I think giving them some control and acknowledging their preferences could make a big difference. Another one that seems like it should be obvious but could easily be forgotten is to give the kids some time each day for physical activity and noisy behavior. I feel like these are things I already knew, but might not have put into practice, at least not in a thoughtful and consistent way.

A lot of the sightseeing suggestions I am coming across will really help my family specifically, because Liam is already interested in the history and ruins, but knowing which parts to focus on and which we can skip will help with time management and avoiding burnout. Like the author of Take Your Kids to Europe mentioned, if you see every castle along the way, after a few even the "best" castle is just another castle to the kids. I could probably see every church in Rome, but I know that Bill and Liam won't stand for that, so I'll chose a few that are most likely to be fun for everyone, like San Clemente where we can actually climb down four layers of history in the church's foundations. (Liam will especially like the 2nd century Mithraic temple (mystery cult) that is the third layer down, because it is pre-Christian. He really identifies with the Roman mythology and is a little bitter that Christianity has either co-opted or replaced most of the pagan religious sites. That's going to be another of my challenges on this trip, to get him to appreciate the beauty and historical importance of the Christian artifacts, and to understand that what he is lamenting is often more about power structures than religion. But that's a lot for a pre-teen to get his mind around, and I digress...)

I'm organizing the suggestions into lists, categorizing them into general travel tips, and then specific ideas for each region. I've been discussing what I've found with my family. I also told them that I expect them both to come up with a prioritized list of things they must see on our trip. The final itinerary is going to have to be a family project. I'm also building a list of books to read before we go. We probably won't read them all, but we've got almost two years, so you never know. :) I've made a concept map to help keep me on track and away from the very time consuming search for where to sleep and other such tangents.

----Sources Cited----

[1] Callison, Daniel. "Key Words, Concepts and Methods for Information Age Instruction: A Guide to Teaching Information Inquiry," p. 108

[2] Humbolt State University. "Kuhlthau's Model of the Stages of the Information Process." Accessed October 1, 2005.

[3]The Big6 Associates. "What is the Big6." Accessed October 1, 2005.]