What are the Goals?
Whenever I assign a topic for students to research and learn from, I always try to approach this with my goals in mind.
If the research project is successful I expect that my students
I have found that the typical research assignment that I have used doesn't always satisfy the last two on this list. Because of this, I have been excited to try new formats that place more emphasis on identifying important information and rephrasing this information to communicate meaning.
The Typical Research Assignment
A good example of a typical project that I have used in the past is as follows:
"In groups, research a source of energy and present your findings (how it works, pros/cons, etc.) to the rest of the class."
While, this approach allows students to have choice in what they are researching and provides opportunities to learn from others, there are some challenges. This research topic isn't exactly unique to my classroom and the internet provides a wealth of pre-assembled resources that allow students to satisfy the requirements without actually thinking about the content. For example, if a student needed to produce a list of pros and cons about wind energy, they just need to do a quick google search and find a website that has compiled this list for them to copy and paste rather than assembling this information themselves.
"Up-Goer Five" Format
Introducing this Idea
My favorite way to introduce this format is to show students this awesome Minute Physics / xkcd collaboration video describing "How to Go to Space" using only the 1,000 most common words. This video does an great job demonstrating just how much information can still be communicated with this limited language. It also gets students excited for the challenge because hearing complex ideas phrased in this way is just so darn entertaining!
So you may be wondering, if only the 1,000 most common words are allowed, how exactly does one go about confirming that this rule has been followed? I suppose, one could go through this exhaustive list comparing the words one by one but believe me, this task is hard enough already...
To make this challenge a little more manageable, Theo Sanderson created the "Up-Goer Five Text Editor". This web application has a text box that allows you to type out your message and, in real time, it checks each word that you type against the list of 1,000 words and underlines any results that don'f follow the rule. The result is a process that allows you to keep trying new combinations of words until the red underline goes away. I encourage you to try it out. What would it take to describe a concept that you normally define with a handful of key vocab words?
In the classroom, there are lots of opportunities for students to demonstrate that they understand the meaning behind an idea using this tool. It doesn't have to be a big project, it could take the form of an exit ticket, presentation slide, or classroom challenge. Here are a couple ways that we've utilized this format in our school:
Watching an hour of presentations can get tiresome for students and it is admittedly pretty easy to start losing interest after a while. With this final summary slide however, I have found that students are excited to hear what their classmates have come up with and are much more engaged as a whole. It adds a layer of humor to the presentation while still satisfying all of my goals for the assignment.
The Minnetonka Research Program uses the Up-Goer Five text editor to write their abstracts in two starkly different formats. As scientists, it is important to be able to communicate with a wide range of audiences with varying levels of expertise. These students are some of the top performers in the school and are typically very comfortable using the "fancy" language of science. This vocabulary limitation is especially challenging to adapt to such scientifically dense pieces of writing but the process of making this "translation" to Up-Goer Five language is really valuable. It requires the author to focus on how best to communicate meaning without using the key vocabulary. Check out the great example below to see how this student went about rephrasing her abstract to satisfy the rules.
On the surface, this technique can seem kind of silly and contrived. After all, no one ever really communicates in this way and true scientific writing has a very different set of rules. As I explain to my classes, I think this offers a different purpose than just producing a product. Putting together an "Up-Goer Five" write up is all about the process. Writing and rewriting until all of the words are accepted means that students are continually rephrasing their communication to convey the same meaning without mindlessly copying and pasting or using vocabulary words that they can't fully articulate. It reframes the purpose of this product from "What does it say?" to "What does it mean?". Listing out all of the terms from the unit in a paragraph doesn't mean you know what you are talking about but describing those same ideas using only the 1,000 most common words certainly does.
I would love to hear how others have used this "Up-Goer Five" format. If you have ideas to share please write them in a comment below so we can all learn from each other :)
Father, Physics Teacher, Knowles Fellow, Friend, Techie, and Musician