For many years every sixth grader at Durham Academy has been required to research an animal for sixth grade science using multiple sources. They pick an animal, take notes online, cite their sources and then write a first person report from the animal's perspective. In the past, I have not been happy with students taking their notes online because it often led to cutting and pasting long passages without ever processing the information available in the source. Also, some students would take all their information from one source and just cite three more without ever using them.
This year I encouraged the science teachers to give the students a note-taking template that I created and have the students take written notes. The first day of the project we had the students find four strong sources. Most students selected our animal encyclopedia, Encyclopedia Britannica Online and/or WorldBook Online, a website, and a book in the library about their animal. The second day we cited all our sources on Google Drive. Today the students started taking notes, and it was amazing to see how relaxed and engaged they were with their research. Using their iPads and the books, they could have all of their resources in front of them at once. The four-page template packet helped them organize their information easily. Everyone knew what they were supposed to be doing and how to do it; that goes a long way to avoiding the stress and anxiety that can come with a research project. We required the students to show us their notes at the end of each page of the template before they started on the next page. This allowed us to make sure that they had detailed notes and they were using all of their resources. The student took excellent notes and stayed on task the entire period. I anticipate that they will be done with their research much sooner than we planned.
After they finish the research, they will still write their report from the animal's perspective. The finished product will include a cover illustration that they draw, the two page report, a bibliography, and a note about the author.
For this project and this grade level, I think the iPad worked best as an information resource rather than a place to record notes. Handwritten notes ensured that students were taking complete notes, using multiple sources, and avoiding plagiarism. Once the students complete their template, they can then use that document to develop their typed report on the iPad.