Firstly, happy 2016! It’s been a busy start at RJ with history projects, a huge Theology project for all freshmen, and juniors and seniors out of school on service projects for a full two weeks! What a cool school I work at, where students are given extensive opportunities to immerse themselves in solidarity with those in need.
During those two weeks of service, the sophomores were hard at work on inquiry-driven research projects. Half of the sophomore class is writing a research paper on Frankenstein. They were given five topics to choose from:
- Advances during the 1800s. What were some of the latest techniques and discoveries? More specifically, consider cloning and stem cell research. (Just how weird WAS Victor’s idea that he could make a human being).
**Remember, you are not simply researching and presenting these discoveries, but ALSO applying them to Frankenstein.
- Choose one of the scientists whose work Victor Frankenstein is said to have admired (Luigi Galvani, Allesandro Volta, Cornelius Agrippa, Albertus Magnus, or Paracelsus). What were their discoveries or areas of study? What influence did they have on Victor?
- Crime and punishment during the 1800s. For example, various characters in the book are accused of murder. What kind of trial and punishment could they expect? Were accused women treated differently than men? How is this portrayed in Frankenstein—accurately or inaccurately? OR, consider grave robbing. How much of a problem was grave robbing? Why? What were the punishments?
- Consider the role of women in society of the day. Where were the expectations placed upon them? What were their goals and pursuits? What jobs were open to them? Were Justine, Caroline, and Elizabeth “typical”? ALSO, consider the role of Mary Shelley’s actual life throughout the novel. What influence did her life have on her characters and overall story?
- What is the “Nature versus Nurture” argument all about? Consider what might cause the creature’s personality to develop the way it does. Along these lines, look into studies of “Wild Children” (Wolf Boy, Wild Peter, Feral Children, ETC). What happens to children that are completely isolated from human society?
What I love about these options is that each topic can be open to interpretation, and variations on these topics will be accepted by the teacher. I find that this sort of guided inquiry goes over well with students; they want choice and they want to be free to explore, but they like having a bit of guidance. I showed the girls how to use the Pocket app (www.getpocket.com) as a tool for curating sources. It’s one of my favorite apps for research because in addition to saving web articles, it finds and saves the permalink for database articles! Kudos, Pocket.
The research paper has to be 5-7 pages in length and include an annotated bibliography. I like the idea of reforming a traditional research paper by being more flexible about deadlines, paying close attention to purpose and audience, writing to appeal, offering freedom for outline format, and making the annotated bibliography experience more authentic (Brainstormed in https://secondaryschoolliteracy.wordpress.com/2016/02/09/researching-the-research-paper/). Each of these is a longer conversation than I’ve had with the English department since I have been here, but I sense that they’re open to change if it translates to college readiness and a more joyful experience for the students. Things to work on next year.