Hitting a home run with primary source research using databases

It’s no secret that I love baseball. And kidlit. Evidence? Check.

I also love teaching library skills. And guiding students to new learning. You’ll have to imagine photos for these…but trust me, I do.

So, since April was National Poetry Month as well as the beginning of baseball season – it was only natural to create a 3 week unit combining kidlit, baseball, and teaching library skills, focusing on using evidence.  There were lots of goals here. Lots. Of. Goals.

Student learning goals:  

  • Define primary source
  • Identify needed primary source
  • Understand what a database is (and how it’s different from google)
  • Select appropriate database
  • Log in / access database using kcls.org/students account
  • Use multiple primary sources to assist in identifying a piece of literature as nonfiction or historical fiction
  • Reflect and respond to literature in a variety of genres (poetry & biography)

Goals aligned to the AASL 21st Century Learner standards:

  • 1.2, 1.1.3, 1.1.4, 1.1.5, 1.1.8, 1.2.4, 1.4.1, 2.4.3, 3.1.1, 4.1.1, 4.1.2

And my personal, informal goal: to make research, primary sources, and database access interesting by connecting each to sports

Now, to do this in 3 40 minute library classes with my 4th graders.

Week 1: last week of April

  • Read Casey at the Bat, the classic baseball narrative poem written in 1888
  • During reading, have students retell at various points what has happened (after the first stanza and fourth stanza worked for me)
  • After stanzas 6-8, have students infer and describe Casey in a word or two. Our favorites: boastful, not humble, confident, cocky (which, we discussed, is very different than confident).
  • After stanza 12, have students make a claim about what they think happened at Casey’s at-bat and use evidence from the text to support/refute the claim.
  • After poem: have students think about famous historical baseball players. Jot down a list of who they know. Possible HW: have students ask someone at home about famous baseball players from history.

Week 2: first week of May

  • Begin by reviewing/adding to list of famous baseball players. Explain that one or more will appear in today’s story (allowing students to understand at least part of it is fact-based).
  • Read Mighty Jackie: strike out queen by Marissa Moss
    • BEFORE READING: explain that this story is either nonfiction or historical fiction They need to listen for details that can be proven TRUE or FALSE as written in the story.
    • During reading, pause and ask students to remember details that could possibly be TRUE or FALSE. Good stopping spots include: after 2nd page, after Jackie is taught by Dazzy Vance, end of story. They can turn/talk, then share to the group. Write down their statements, and be prepared to guide them back to the text if needed.
    • DO NOT read/show final page of book with Jackie’s photograph.
  • At end, ask students if there is a way to prove the story details as FACT or FICTION. (They’ll tell you “Google”…and you’ll have some Google Jackie Mitchell after class [I do every year]. Which is fine – Google has a lot of answers…but not easily located primary sources.) Who would we trust? Was someone at the game that day…and did they give an account of the day’s events?
    • (side note – at this point in the year, my 4th graders are studying primary sources in their classroom. This ties in beautifully.)
  • Define primary source (first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation)
  • Ask: what type of person is at a baseball game that writes down exactly what happened? (reporter) Where can we find their article? (newspaper) Which one? (NY Times, as Jackie pitched against the NY Yankees)
  • State that next week, the students will be creating their own search to locate evidence to VERIFY or REFUTE the statements made in Mighty Jackie.

Week 3: 2nd week in May

  • Begin with a review of student-generated statements from Mighty Jackie that they thought could be either TRUE or FALSE.

At this point, depending on access to technology and databases (and the abilities of your students), the lesson can go a few ways and still be successful.

Limited tech and/or limited access to NYT historical database: (most years)

  • teacher guides the lesson as whole-class experience in locating/accessing/searching databases (see below…)
  • once articles are located, there are two options:
  1. hand out copies of two NYT primary source articles after locating as a class, having students work individually/in pairs to locate evidence proving story is FACT or FICTION
  2. read/skim projected articles together, locating evidence proving story is FACT / FICTION

Good tech, but limited access to NYT historical database: (one year)

  • email families, requesting students to bring in public library cards to use at school, as they’re learning to access and utilize databases for research. Depending on response, have students work in pairs.

Good tech, equal access to NYT historical database: (this year!)

Each student in the district has their school ID linked to KCLS. Every single child can use the electronic resources of KCLS – including databases – for free!

  • Teacher asks students which newspaper would have recounting of the baseball game (NYTimes). What date? (1931, as given in the story)
  • Search using the database tab from the public library – locate newspapers, then NYTimes.
    • NOTE: lesson in reading – be sure to choose the right NYTimes link!
  • Reteach/demonstrate how to log in to the database using their KCLS library info.
    • Side note: great time to remind group about online privacy/saving passwords!
  • Once logged in, ask group what they think we should type in the search box. (Someone will say Mighty Jackie, others will say Jackie Mitchell, and still other terms will come up. Great modeling potential here…).
  • Search jackie mitchell (without quotes). Notice the number of hits – over 4,000!
    • Note: capitalization doesn’t matter…
  • Ask students how they could limit the number of articles. Lots of right answers: you want to generate a quick list. DON’T MODEL. They’ll use these limiters in their own search!
  • As no student knew this strategy, I taught limiting using quotation marks – that putting “ “ around two or more words will keep them together in the search query. This works on almost every Internet search, including Google!
    • Side note: to reinforce this – search Steph Curry (NBA player) without quotes, there could be a chef named Steph who makes Curry. With quotes, and only the NBA player shows up
  • Student work time! In 15 minutes, they will:
    • Independently access kcls.org/students
    • Locate and log in to NYTimes database
    • Create search query
    • Successfully limit search results using one or more tools
    • Locate 1-2 primary sources on Jackie Mitchell, baseball player
    • Read/skim and identify if story details are FACT or FICTION
    • Identify Mighty Jackie as either nonfiction (biography) or historical fiction

Much of student reflection/reaction was done as they lined up to leave the library, as 40 minutes wasn’t enough time (including 7min for check-out). Not all students found two articles, though all who logged in found and read one. Most could name a new way to limit search results in a database. Many were fascinated with Jackie’s real-life story.  But let’s be honest: a handful in one class didn’t get past step 1…evidence that I still have work to do as a teacher. How do I reach all students? How do I identify students who need more support…and give it to them?

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