On most of my days working at Gettysburg, I spend an hour or two working at the National Park Service information desk. It’s a place where people come to ask questions, find out what there is to do, and where to go.
Often times, visitors will ask questions such as:
“We’ve never been here before , and we have no idea where to go or what to do, where do we start?”
“I’ve heard there is an auto tour of the battlefield, where can we go to do the tour?”
“Where are the cannons on the battlefield?”
“Can I walk to the whole battlefield?”
Some visitors have done some homework and come with print outs of schedules and things to do and just need a little direction as to where to go. Others take the time to watch a short orientation film at the entrance to the Visitor Center as they walk in. I’ve watched as people grab all the pamphlets they can and start reading them, trying to help themselves, but they are overwhelmed. In a new environment , it’s helpful to look for signs to guide you, but sometimes the visitor center signs can be missed. That’s what the NPS staff and Gettysburg Foundation employees are there to for, to help guide and instruct those visitors.
As an educator, the experience of the visitor at Gettysburg made me think of a student’s research process. The different visitors remind me of students I have had in the past. Some students have some background knowledge, some print out everything, some hope that someone else in class has their same topic and will give them their notes! Starting a research project on a brand new topic for a student can be very much like walking into the Gettysburg Visitor Center for the first time. Similar to the visitor who may be overwhelmed when arriving for the first time and not sure what to focus on, students can be overwhelmed by a lack of focus on their topic. If a visitor has a focus, such as “How do I do an auto tour of the battlefield?” they can get that information much quicker then just walking in and saying “Where am I and where do I start?” (Not that there is anything wrong with that question) Same for students, when researching, a simple solution is to create a set of guiding questions to focus on. Those questions are a starting point, which can lead to more questions. After getting a map of the battlefield with the driving tour on it, the visitor often asks for more information on the tour. Rangers will guide them to the option of buying an auto tour CD to play in their vehicle with more information, highering a Licensed Guide, or key places to visit.
Often, I have assigned students topics to research and turned them loose in the library or on the computer. Experience and research into best practice has taught me that a better way is to help students create their own guiding questions before staring out.
When our students begin a new research topic, it’s a lot like visiting a new place. Having a map to guide you can save you a lot of time and frustration, guiding questions can be that map!
Comment here with your ideas on classroom research..
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