April 15 was just a few days ago. Know why that’s special? Nope. It’s not about taxes. That’s Jackie Robinson Day. Every year on April 15, every player in Major League Baseball wears #42 on their jersey in honor of this great athlete. It was on April 15 in 1947 that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in MLB and helped our country move forward in living up to the ideals set forth in the Constitution that “all men are created equal.”
An Unforgettable Story
Jackie’s story has always inspired me. Watching “42”, the movie about his life starring Harrison Ford and Chadwick Boseman only further reinforced my admiration for the man. It’s a story that reveals some of my most cherished values – courage, hard work and perseverance in the face of difficulties…all to achieve what most considered an impossible dream. I’ve never had to exhibit the level of courage Jackie portrayed on and off the field. I’ve never faced the kinds of hardships he overcame. I do, however, have a few dreams that I’m working to achieve. Most days I feel like I can achieve them with that right mix of courage, hard work and perseverance. A few days, well…who hasn’t had a day like that?
Researching a Multitude of Lessons
Teachers are great at finding many lessons within an historic event or person’s life. Jackie Robinson’s life presented so many opportunities for learning. I knew if we researched his life, we could learn about race relations before the Civil Rights Act, the character traits needed to reach your goals, and some more of those research skills we had started to acquire the previous month. And, well, my students had asked to do more research. Who was I to deny them such a request, right? 🙂
A Little Extra Time Needed
This research project lasted a week longer than our previous unit on famous inventors. The reason was simply that there were more questions to answer through our research. With my famous inventors project, students were just learning the skills needed. So, I kept it simple and focused on answering just three questions. This project, however, had three categories and 3-4 questions within each category. More questions require more time to research. That’s not a bad thing. Just something a teacher needs to plan for when mapping out their units and lessons.
More Questions = More Research
One of the things I liked most about researching more questions was that it gave my students more content to write about in their final essays. When you only research three questions, you really only have enough information to write one solid paragraph, but no more. With more questions and more content, my students were well equipped to write a full 5-paragraph informative essay.
Let’s talk about paraphrasing. I had introduced it to my students with our famous inventors research. I continued with a mini-lesson on it and monitored students’ efforts. One student asked if researchers were required to paraphrase numbers. A great question. No. Don’t paraphrase the date Jackie Robinson was born, or how many home runs he hit. Sometimes as teachers, we can be so familiar with a concept or skill that we look past the simple and obvious. I love teaching moments like that, though. When a student asks a question and I not only help that particular student, but also improves my own teaching level for future students.
Researching doesn’t have to be overwhelming for either students or teachers. Proper planning and embracing the inherent messiness of exploring what for our students is the unknown are essential to a successful outcome. In a way, I was also a researcher alongside my students. I was researching how best to design a unit that was appropriately challenging for my 4th graders, but that also taught them important knowledge and skills. Was it as historic as Jackie Robinson’s first bat at home plate on April 15? Probably not, but I don’t measure my success in such comparative terms. Students were focused, engaged, had fun and learned a lot. That’s an educational home run, for sure.