Teaching research skills is awesome…especially in grade 3! Conducting proper research is difficult even for adults, it is even more difficult when the students begin their searches by asking, “What color clothes did Marco Polo wear?” It was a slow process to even teach them how to properly search the internet. As adults we have experience rewording our queries if at first we don’t find the information we need; however, this is really difficult for 9 year olds.

The goal of the project was for the students to choose different explorers and create biographical stop motion videos using Stop Motion Studio Pro. To teach the skills needed, I purposefully picked obscure explorers that I knew the students wouldn’t have known about. In the beginning, I tried to focus on famous Chinese Admiral, Zheng He, who led the Treasure Fleets in the early 1400s. I had to change my example because the focus of all the information was that he was a eunuch, which was not a topic I wanted to introduce. I started the process by having them decide what type of exploration they were interested in – sea, space, land, etc. Following that, they were able to come up with lists of people to research by simply searching for “famous underwater explorers.” Doing a search like that brings a surprising number of people from Robert Ballard to Sylvia Earle and many others. I was surprised at the wide variety of people that were chosen.

To introduce the idea of exploration, I showed the students the website www.airpano.com. This website is great because it allows students to view places around the world using 360 degree panoramic photos. At first, they simply had to investigate the website. Once they understood how it worked, they were tasked with exploring an area of their choosing and give a detailed report of what was there. They I explained that this was like an explorer who has returned to their home country and must give a report of what they found.

It took quite a few lessons to teach the students how to properly search and ask questions that would bring the results they needed. The first step in the search process was teaching them to use child–friendly search engines, such as Google Junior and Junior Safe Search. Once they were able to find sites that provided the answer, they then needed to learn and understand how to find the answer to the question. We discussed ideas such as skimming. If I want to know when Christopher Columbus was born I don’t need to read every word, I just need to look for a year, then I need to read what that year actually means. I spent two weeks working through the research part of the unit. I spent so much time because I knew it would make the biography easier. Plus it is a life skill students will need in the future.

In class, we had discussions about the two sides of exploration. I asked students the questions, “What happened to the people who were living in the place that the explorer discovered?” Discussing how Columbus could have discovered America if there were people already living there was a tough question for the students to answer. After much thought, many wondered what happened to those people and why don’t we hear about them. I showed them the John Fire Lame Deer quote from this Nearpod lesson. The discussion afterwards resulted in what I think is the best quote from a student I have heard in my 12 years of teaching: “White people are crazy!”

Once the students had all their information, it was time to create storyboards. I had the students create them so they could fine tune what they were going to say and plan the visuals for the backgrounds of their videos. The students were able to team up at this point if they had chosen the same explorer as another student. I had the students create their storyboards on paper as a way to focus on the content and not focus on a new app. When creating the storyboards, the students needed to consider perspective and demonstrate both sides of an exploration.

Of course creating the videos was the best part of the unit. We used Stop Motion Studio Pro. When I introduce a new app, I first let the students just go for it and see if they can figure it out. Of course they usually can and are able to learn how to use it much quicker than if I taught them. They also gain a better understanding when they are teaching each other. Once it was time to actually create their videos, they were extremely confident with their stop motion skills. They had learned how to use a green screens, adjust the transparency of their backgrounds and take photos. The difficulties and frustrations arose once they realized how many photos they actually needed to take in order to make a movie at all, let alone a good one.

I think creating stop motion videos is a great way for students to share their learning and understanding. It provides a chance to be creative. It also gives them ownership of their learning because they can make it their own.