In Part 1: Mucking About and Part 2: Drilling Down, I spoke about my own research process, and how that impacted my thinking on student research. Now I want to talk directly to the students to give them some words of encouragement.

Students, another school year is starting, which means another year of research and learning. I want you to know that  it’s okay to:

  • be anxious about research.
  • get frustrated about research.
  • make mistakes.
  • ask for help. And then ask for help again.

It’s also okay to:

  • really like research — a lot of people do, and if you are one of them, consider yourself lucky and not at all weird.
  • follow tangents. These might lead to new discoveries.
  • Wallow in that mucking about stage for a while.

You should also remember that research is not a straight line, and that sometimes you will find some really interesting information that doesn’t end up being part of the project. You might also follow a lead that doesn’t pan out. This isn’t a waste of time. It was all part of the process.

If you’ve read The Water Castle you know that Nikola Tesla was helping Orlando in his quest to find the Fountain of Youth. But did you also know that he asked Robert Peary to keep a look out for anything strange as he approached the North Pole. You see, Tesla was supposedly testing out his Peace Ray, and was aiming it at the North Pole so no one could be inadvertantly injured by it. Cool story, right? I thought so, too, and was excited to include it in the book, but I could only find it on one website that didn’t meet a lot of thestandards for credibility, so I had to leave it out. But I don’t consider that wasted time. It actually makes me really happy to know this story exists, even if it is of dubious veracity, because it means that Peary and Tesla have a prior connection. And to be fair, I didn’t leave it out of the story entirely. Here is a moment between Nora and Tesla, who have been speaking about Robert Peary and Matthew Henson’s expedition to the North Pole:

Nicola put down one block, then examined the one that Nora had completed. “Good work,” he said. He held the block for a moment longer, a twinkle in his eye, as if her were considering tell her a fantastic story. “The Arctic is all sheets of ice, I believe. There is not much to discover.”

That fantastic story? It was about Tesla’s Peace Ray (also known as his “Death Ray”).

The point is, every time you research you learn. What you learn can inform your project directly or indirectly, or it can simply inform you. And that is never a waste of time. Really.

Oh, and speaking of time, students, a research project can not be done in a night. Remember coils and tangents and mucking about? These things take a lot of time, so don’t even try to rush it.

While I’m at it, I have some tips for educators, too. Teachers and librarians, please remember that

  • Time is limited, but student’s passion shouldn’t be so …
  • give students time to Muck About and …
  • before mucking even starts, time to investigate a wide range of possibilities so each student is researching something that will really hold his or her interest.
  • Choice is the key to a successful research project

I wish everyone a terrific year of teaching, researching, and learning!

Research in Action Part 3: Encouragement
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