Teaching Research with PSAs


Research is always that dreaded word with high school students. I get them as seniors and they seem to have been inoculated against enjoying all the doors you can unlock as you explore sources and search for answers to questions. We do little bits of research throughout the year as a primer for a larger quest. We embarked on one of our mini-research projects a couple of weeks ago and presented the culminating projects this week, PSAs. Students chose a heroic cause, organization or person to look into and create a public service announcement to share with the class. Their subjects ranged from a local shelter for battered women and children- The Turning Point Shelter, to the SPCA, to warnings against drunk driving and on and on. They all took unique approaches to their final products as well. Some visited locations and conducted interviews, others created role play scenes and still others used photography intermixed with statistics to get their messages across.

Once students identified a subject for the project, we went into the nuts and bolts of effective research, what constitutes research and how to properly create an annotated MLA bibliography. I have found over the years that direct instruction is necessary when teaching students citation style. I have tried everything under the sun to make it fun, but nothing embeds the knowledge more than lecture, teacher modeling and student practice so that is what we did. I heavily use the Owl at Purdue website. They have thorough, up-to-date materials on MLA style and often examples for students to follow. The quick guide I give students based on the Owl at Purdue materials is below. Once we have gone through the notes and I have done some modeling, I asked students to pick a topic, any topic, find 5 sources and then we practice creating MLA citations for those sources. I like to do this in class so I can circle around and help them find the sometimes elusive information such as author, publication date, and publisher on websites. After they have successfully cited their sources and proven to me they know where to look for information, I allow them to use Easybib.com. This may be scandalous in the English teacher world, but I know they will fall back on sites like this when they get to college or even other classes. We do go through easybib so they can see that it does not always pull all the information for a complete citation and now because of our practice work, they know where to find it.

Next up is evaluation of sources. This is such an important step in today’s world of instant information. Students often will just Google something and go to the first site as their source. We need to teach them how to be smart consumers of information. I start with an oldie, but goodie- the Tree Octopus site. A former librarian turned me onto this and I have used it every year to introduce evaluation of sources. I give them the handout my librarian made for me. It is attached below. We use that handout as we look through the Tree Octopus website. Once we have evaluated and determined this website to be not credible, the students went out on their own to find a website, evaluate it and then present it to the class. I play the devil’s advocate and ask them lots of questions about their websites to get them thinking about the questions they need to be asking as they are looking for sources. I have found this to be very effective in teaching reliability and credibility of sources over the years.

The last thing we go over before I let them go is copyright. Especially with the creation of student videos, they need to understand the laws regarding web content and music. Most students today are savvy with pirating videos, music and images and they don’t think about the ramifications of their actions. They have grown up in an age where everything is at their fingertips. Communal property has become and aspect to their thinking. Everything is owned and shared by everybody. Music is what most interests my students so that is how I approach copyright and it is especially relevant with the Sam Smith case being waged currently in the music world. We start with one of the most famous copyright in music cases in my lifetime, Vanilla Ice vs. Queen. This video shows a mashup of the two artists. The students immediately see the similarities and that opens the conversation for other famous copyright infringement cases. This video is a compilation of possible copyright issues. I let the students check it out and vote. Most of these are not considered infringement but there are a couple thrown in there like the Huey Lewis and Ray Parker case. We also look cases of famous authors reprimanded for plagiarism. Christian Science Monitor has a great article detailing five of the most famous ones. After we looked at all of this, I let the loose on their research.

The process of the PSA project included a five source annotated bibliography, a full script and storyboard and then the final video, cleanly edited with appropriate special effects and music. I ran most of these classes leading up to the presentations as workshops so I could walk around and help students troubleshoot or give them the opportunity to go outside the classroom to film scenes. If you are just starting this project and want to show students examples of PSAs, some good ones can be found on the MY Hero website. The Laguna Beach Animal Shelter is one of my favorites! I also like the Smokey the Bear commercials. This is the link to one I showed in class. The students really enjoyed this project and did not even complain about the research element. In fact, they requested more video projects. I plan to incorporate a video element into our in-depth career research project coming next week. I was really impressed by what they produced and the enthusiasm they came to class with each day. They continually show me that if I give them choice and get out of their way, they do great things!


2009 MLA Packet

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