Monday, June 18, 2012

The Great Summer Social Studies Research Project

Yeah, I wish I was kidding. 

It turned out that Son the Elder had been given five weeks to work on an in-depth country study project for Social Studies, due the second to last day of school at a 5th grade Social Studies Fair.  There was a research paper, with a minimum of 60 notecards and full citations, several essays and creative activities, and a tri-fold display.  They were supposed to rehearse their presentations and prepare to defend their research and their conlcusions.  My son, bless his heart, was assigned the Republic of Iceland.  When the teacher read through the NINE-PAGE INSTRUCTION PACKET for the assignment, my child heard something like "Blah blah blah, sources, blah blah notes, blah blah FOLKLORE!!  blah VIKINGS!!  Blah blah blah DRAW A CARTOON blah blah..."  After five weeks of class time to work on the project, my son realized the due date was approaching in just two days.  What had he accomplished?  A total of two notecards, several pages of Viking folklore printed off the Internet, two vague, rambling paragraphs that were completely devoid of factual information, and several pages of cartoon drawings of little fighting people with horns on their heads.  My blood pressure spiked so severely that it's amazing my veins didn't explode.

(Sigh).  Because, what else can you do?  I raced around during the day, collecting resources for my child and created a desperate two-day plan that would enable Lars to have SOMETHING to turn in and to present in front of his class mates.  Apparently this project was worth almost his entire fourth quarter Social Studies grade.  It was like a giant bank that was just too big to fail.  Ahem.  The emphasis was on speed and quantity over quality, and even with keeping him up past eleven both nights, he still had only two notecards to turn in, all of his papers were first draft quality or worse -- some were more stream-of-consciousness -- and the entire experience was a nightmare. 

Moreover, it's been a recurring nightmare.  It was the Science Fair project, and it was the Language Arts Project, and the Math Research Project, and the World War One project for Social Studies earlier in the year...  Get the picture?  The alarming thing about this is that these types of projects are only going to get more complex as he progresses through school, and he doesn't seem to be getting any better at figuring out how to manage them on his own.

Once the project had been turned in, the school year had ended, and my blood pressure returned to normal, I asked Lars if he would like to do the project over again on another country, and do it the RIGHT way this time.  I was bracing for a fight, but Lars surprised me by agreeing to this enthusiastically, as in "Cool!  Can I do Japan?"  What's more, Anders chimed in, "Can I do it, too?  I want to do Ireland!"

So here I am, in the middle of June, basically conducting summer home schooling in the alternate universe in which I apparently live.  So much for taking it easy.  I'm using the same assignment packet that Lars's teacher created for the Study of a Country project, but I'm teaching them lessons on organization, planning, and research skills as we go along that they will be able to apply to any multifaceted school project -- and there will be many more of them in the years ahead.  My objective is for them to learn strategies for planning, pacing, and executing a big project so that the work is spread out over the entire time allotted by the teacher.  They also need to learn how to organize all of their notes, papers, books, and other materials so that they can find everything when it's time to turn it in.  My goals are all about executive functioning and task management -- whatever they learn about their countries or about the writing process is just gravy.

In case other parents out there are trying to figure out to help a disorganized child manage large projects, I'll post my lesson plans as I come up with them.  Their projects are due on July 13th, so they probably won't have a chance to write on their blogs between now and then.  Wish us luck!


Fred and/or Marlies said...

The joys of parenthood is to see their own sins repeated.

Rebecca Grace said...

"Sins?" It makes me sad when you say things like that. You should see how much they are enjoying their research projects, how proud and excited they are of the work they are doing. This isn't about bad kids needing to be punished in order to get them to succeed in school. This is about good kids who love learning and want desperately to be successful, but who need help developing organization and planning skills. No one ever motivated a child to succeed by making him feel bad about himself.

Fred and/or Marlies said...

I know you are fighting the good fight and with proper motivation there will be the occasional victory but boys are not girls and their instincts are not toward organization and planning. They will behave rather randomly according to the immediate moment. Tomorrow is always a long way off.

Rebecca Grace said...

Are you seriously suggesting that all boys are genetically incapable of planning and organization? Seriously? For thousands of years, immensely complex civilizations have been planned and organized almost entirely by males. The idea that boys can't plan and organize just because they are boys is rubbish. You cannot make generalized statements about the relative strengths and weaknesses of all girl and boy children based on the differences between one son and one daughter. Bernie's difficulties with organization and planning as a child were more likely related to ADHD, which IS genetic, but which also affects both boys and girls.

Ivory Spring said...

Hahaha.... love that comic! ;)

Re: NY Beauty -- you can storm through it, I just know you!!! :)