Friday, December 5, 2014

Student research challenge: find the oldest house on your street

Teachers tend to love when authors who visit their schools excite students about research. It’s one thing to say research is adventure and quite another to show that…but it’s not always easy for teachers to come up with effective, age-suitable examples.

My school visit presentations emphasize the thrill of primary research, focusing on the detective work I did to write Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman and Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman. This involved everything from tracking down Bill Finger’s son Fred’s 1992 settlement of estate document at a New York surrogate’s court to cold-calling everyone in Florida with the last name “Finger”—not the kind of things most elementary students can or should be doing.

So how to make primary research accessible to young people?

Doing is believing, so I suggest challenging them to determine which house or building on their street is the oldest. It’s localized and limited (well, depending on how long any particular street is), so in most cases, it’s an assignment that young researchers can embrace. A street’s oldest house is not information a Google search will provide, so it will require them to think creatively. How else can they find out the answer?

Teachers, if you put this challenge to your students, please let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear some stories.

1/19/15 addendum: For students who live on too big a street to take on this challenge, here is another: uncover a story about a person (especially a person you do not recognize) in a black-and-white family photo in your house or apartment.

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