How To Do Research/ Find Information

Students doing research

Once students have established the driving question or the hypothesis of their project, they need to determine the topics that are necessary for them to know in order to solve their problem. Most problems require the knowledge of multiple disciplines. The task of identifying those disciplines is difficult and students need to be guided through the process. 

The most important part of project-based learning is research. How thorough or exhaustive the research is will determine the quality of the project and may be the determining factor whether students will arrive at the correct conclusion in their pursuit to find an answer to the driving question.

Research can be shallow or deep. Many students will resort to information sources such as Wikipedia, which provides good information, but in most cases not enough or outright shallow. However, a source like Wikipedia can be the launching pad for identifying the different topics that students need to understand in order to be able to reach an educated conclusion for the topic they are investigating. 

Those topics that students identify need to be delved into and studied carefully. A shallow overview of the topic may not be enough for taking all aspects of the problem into consideration, as they are trying to reach an educated conclusion to the problem they are trying to solve.

Delving deep into all project topics is the foundational knowledge necessary for resolving the project’s driving question. To learn more about foundational knowledge, its characteristics and how to implement it, check out our A Beginner’s  Guide to Foundational Knowledge free Ebook.

How to Identify the Project Parts With AI Help

Identifying the project parts that are absolutely necessary for solving or responding to the driving question is not easy. It requires research and it is an iterative process because as students work on the project, they discover other necessary components for reaching a wholesome solution. AI can make this process much easier for students from which they can learn a great deal. Students can use ChatGPT or any other ChatBot to provide them with an outline of the things that are necessary for  investigating their driving question. Here is an example of a query I provided ChatGPT “Can you provide an outline of the components that I need to investigate in order to solve this problem “How does extreme heat affect our city and what can be done to improve the situation?”” The outline that I got provided me with much more than I wanted to cover in this project, but it gave me the main project parts that I need to investigate in this project:

Effects of Extreme Heat on Cities:

  1. Physical Effects
    1. Infrastructure Damage
      1. Roads and Bridges
      2. Buildings and Homes
      3. Power and Utility Systems
    2. Environmental Impact
      1. Increased evaporation rates in water bodies
      2. Drying out of green spaces
      3. Changes in urban biodiversity
  2. Human Health Effects
    1. Direct health impacts
      1. Heat strokes
      2. Dehydration
      3. Burns
      4. Exacerbation of chronic illnesses

ChatGPT provided a much more comprehensive outline, but this is probably enough for students to understand the effects of extreme heat and to come up with ideas on how to counteract the extreme heat impact. Using a ChatBot can make this process much easier for students because it helps narrow down the problem at hand and navigate them in the right direction. 

We have created a Project Topic Advisor GPT using OpenAI’s GPT tool, that helps students come up with their driving question and the topics they need to investigate in order to solve it. Upon request, it will also provide you with a list of reliable resources for the investigation.

How to Do Research

Researching/Finding information is a vital component of the investigative web and unfortunately not many teachers know how to do it. It is through this process that students learn the background information that is so important to a successful investigation. Information can consist of both content that others have written or data that others have collected.

How can you help with finding information

Teaching students how to do research is essential for working on any project. In fact, helping students develop skills in searching for information is a prerequisite before starting any project.

How To Do It

  1. Develop benchmark lesson on how to use a variety of resources and present it to your students
  2. Help students learn how to determine which sources to consult for different types of information and include it into your benchmark lesson
  3. As the internet becomes one of the most important sources for research, knowing how to conduct research on the internet is essential. You can use a few excellent tutorials available online to teach your students how to search on the web:
    1. How to Teach Online Research Skills to Students in 5 Steps by Kathleen Morris – Kathleen is a blogger and primary teacher who is passionate about digital literacy. In her blog post and accompanying free eBook, she includes infographics and guides on how to research, use Google, and evaluate websites, as well as 50 ideas for research-related mini-lessons.
    2. MLA Citations for Grades 1-6 by Kathy Shrock – Kathy provides detailed instructions for citing sources as early as first grade. This resource includes step-by-step guides and examples for sourcing all different types of media in MLA 9 format aligned with the abilities of students in grades 1-6.
  4. Once students know how to look up information, you need to show them how to sift through, abstract and outline the information they find.
  5. With the explosion of available information, you need to help your students assess the validity of a source of information.  A good source for learning how to evaluate internet resources is by the Georgetown university library.
  6. Teach students how to synthesize information. For elementary and middle school students, this requires having them summarize the key ideas and related concepts. You can also use a Central Idea graphic organizer, in which the topic is stated at the center and key ideas are branching out of it.

How AI Can Help: There are AI-powered tools that can explore the internet for you, organizing your data into digestible visualizations, and even formatting references correctly. One such AI research app is Genei, that will search the web for relevant content, offer suggestions to add new sources, crunches the content, offers a summary, extracts a list of common keywords along with all the images inside—and, to top it off, rounds up all the references to other work.

Another research tool that students will be able to use is provided by Google. Google’s AI-powered Search Generative Experience (SGE) will be able to summarize articles that students are reading on the web. SGE can already summarize search results so that students don’t have to scroll forever to find what they are looking for, and this new feature is designed to take that further by helping them out after they have actually clicked a link.

This can be a tremendous help for students because this is the part of project-based learning that most students fail on. Having access to a helper app that can find relevant resources, summarize them for the students and format the references correctly can free up students to focus on analyzing which materials will fit which parts of the project and how to analyze and synthesize everything they learned. All skills that require their executive faculty.