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Volume 31, Number 2
March/April 2015

Improving Students' Research Skills

New Tests Raise Expectations Across the Grades


The sixth-graders at Genesee Community Charter School in Rochester, N.Y., wanted a skateboard park, so they decided to make their case to city officials.

The students had met with representatives from youth and recreation organizations and knew that some members of the community were leery of the idea because they were concerned about the potential for crime and saw little benefit. So the students got to work. Over the course of the 2011–2012 school year, they analyzed economic data and found evidence that skate parks around the United States had actually generated development around them. They looked through crime data and found that while there was some evidence of vandalism and public smoking and drinking, there was little evidence of violent crime. And they interviewed officials from other cities that had skate parks, including Louisville, Phoenix, Sacramento, and San Diego. In the end, the students presented their research to city officials, showing that skate parks provide economic benefits and do not contribute to increased crime.

Unfortunately for them, the officials did not agree to build the park. But their teacher, Chris Dolgos, encouraged them to keep trying. “I tell them, ‘This is your community; you have a voice.’” Even if they don’t ultimately agree with you, he told them, “people will listen to you if you have the right information.”

Genesee Community Charter School is part of the national Expeditionary Learning network, in which student research projects, called “expeditions,” are central to the curriculum. All students in the approximately 150 schools in the network spend substantial amounts of time on extended projects that require them to delve through background readings to gather evidence, evaluate the quality of the evidence, and come up with a conclusion that they present, often publicly.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Officers and National Governors Association Center for Best Practice. Available online at

Expeditionary Learning:

K. Purcell et al. How Teens Do Research in the Digital World. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, 2012. Available online at

Small Acts of Courage: