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Your personal experiences about an event, a social group, or a place are often worth more exploration. Here is an example of how to generate specific questions from a more general research topic. While browsing the shelves for material related to gardening during World War I, you find a book on war gardens in World War I called War Garden Victorious by Charles Lathrop Pack. Boston Common was credited with having one of the finest demonstrations of war gardens in the United States in 1918.
The gardens were planted by the Womena€™s City Club, with experts on hand to give instruction and advice to visitors. You realize that these pictures were taken at approximately the same time, from only several hundred yards apart. Finding a specific research question can be as simple as following a trail of documents until you get closer and closer. If you are having difficulty revising and narrowing your research question, we strongly recommend reading The Craft of Research by Wayne Booth et al. The first assumption to note here is that the 1970a€™s environmental laws were a€?stringent.a€? Were they? Do plan ahead: make sure you are reading, thinking, and writing long before your assignment (whether paper or prospectus) is due.
When our emotions or egos get involved, we tend to make decisions for all the wrong reasons. When a decision is big, we sometimes tend to delay our decision because it’s more difficult. Your research question helps readers to know the specific subject matter you will be addressing within the broad topic of environmental history.
A research question defines which data you need to collect and which methods you will use to access and analyze your documents.
Picking a topic from projects you have done before could help you find ideas that you are already interested in. List your interests (as many as you can!), and then rank them to come up with one or two which are the most compelling to you. For example, Hurricane Katrina brought ideas about poverty and environment into the mainstream press, as well as ideas about land-use patterns and natural disasters. For example, suppose that you are a bird watcher and volunteer at a bird conservation society. In fact, research could be a lifelong process of asking new questions and searching for answers! This shows the quarter-acre section given over to potatoes, with Girl Scouts assisting in the cultivation. Yet the photographs give two very different glimpses of Boston Common: one as city garden tended by civic-minded Girls Scouts, the other as bustling metropolitan street with cars, pedestrians, and a subway stop. The street has been widened, there are far more cars than pedestrians, a new skyscraper has sprung up in the background, and the old subway station appears to be gone. Chapters 3 and 4 in particular focus on defining a researchable question and will give you good advice about thinking through your topic. Historical research consists primarily of constructing arguments based on primary documents. Reading academic literature is critical for you to identify the questions that have not yet been sufficiently studied, to locate your topic within a particular context, and to ask further questions. If you have no clue how to generate a researchable question from academic literature, discuss your ideas with your professors. It is likely that your research topic has already been studied using certain theoretical approaches.
Many scholarly books and journal articles pose further research questions at the end of the books or review papers. You should consider carefully the meaning of every term you wish to use and define it somewhere in your writing. You may have the best research idea ever, but if you need to be in northern Alaska to do it, you are going to need to find a plane ticket and some time. You never know what sort of surprises and interesting ideas you will encounter along the way.
Ask questions about things you dona€™t understand, things you wish to debate, or new ideas and theories. They are very skilled at helping people with research, and they may be able to point you to new sources.
Carve out time from your schedule during which you can sit and think about your research and do nothing else. Not only is it bad scholarship, it could result in you failing the class or being expelled. Instead, review the decision-making process you employed and see if you can identify something that you missed. For instance, suppose you are interested in market development and its environmental effects. Rather, questions will define your directions of inquiry and, in turn, the results of your inquiries will refine your question. Collect your previous term papers or reports and list the topics you have researched for those projects. One of the best ways to generate a topic from a general interest is to look up encyclopedia articles.
For example, a McDonalda€™s drive-through facility represents Americaa€™s unique fast food restaurant landscape.
Recently, you have noticed that it has become harder and harder to spot a specific species in the wild. However, for your paper or project you will need to narrow your question down to something manageable within your time frame.
It can be helpful to document your steps while you are looking for a research question so that you can see a path to follow. You will have to read documents, pursue interesting ideas, read some more, create more questions, find documents, and so on.
When you think that you have an appropriate research question, see if you can fill in the blanks in the following sentence. They can be used at many places in the research process, and you will often do these steps more than once.
Historical research is constantly asking why certain events happened when and where they did.
You will want to spend significant time exploring which documents are available that are related to your topic. If you are uncertain how to find the books and articles you may need, you should ask a librarian for help. They can give you suggested readings and potential research directions, as well as fill you in on current debates within the field.
Pay attention to these questions; they represent the thoughts of an experienced researcher about what still needs to be studied.
For example, a term like a€?globalizationa€? could have a number of different meanings, depending on the topic and specialization of the author.
For example, if you are a musician, you may think about where the raw resources for your instrument come from. However we have not explored how this vocabulary could be used in real conversations yet and what other words or phrases in the language might help in making the talk a little more natural. Even though you have a specific topic ready, you could still feel lost when searching for data to support your argument. If you asked, "What is the relationship between market development and environmental degradation?a€? your question would be too broad. By narrowing your question to the relationship between large-scale agriculture and the Dust Bowl, you also narrow the scope of data collection and analysis. They usually contain an overview outlining facts on a subject with a concise list of suggested readings.
You may read newspapers and magazines, use Wikipedia, or even use Google to find current events.
Think about why this particular type of landscape (highway systems and road systems) formed. Continue doing this until you reach a question that is small enough that you think you could answer it in the time available to you.
If you are unsure how to fill it in, there are many examples in Bootha€™s book, or you can consult a professor or peer for help. You should always be asking yourself, a€?What is the historical context that led to this event or situation?
These documents may include photographs, newspaper or magazine articles, recordings, public records, and so on. If you wish to read about how to use a library, we recommend Thomas Manna€™s The Oxford Guide to Library Research. You are always free to situate your research topic in relation to other theories to help you produce research questions.
As you do preliminary research, you find that in your landscape the rising rate of AIDS is concurrent with the declining area of crop planting.


A more specific term might be (for example) a€?increasing global interdependence of the financial industry.a€? Be specific, and try to write in language that your mother, father, siblings, or grandmother could understand. The second assumption to note is that your research question will explain how environmental legislation gets created and passed.
If you are lucky enough to have grant money or other money to help you travel, by all means, use it! This question does not clearly define the problems you are interested in, nor does it put boundaries on your research project. You may start archival research focusing on agriculture and settlement history, or decide to conduct oral histories concerning farmers' memories of the Dust Bowl. If you go to the library to find encyclopedia articles, you will have a good chance of finding a topic from them. Doing so will help you to come up with a research topic investigating the relationships between highway development and American fast food culture.
Your own experiences may help you to look into the relationship between land use change and habitat loss, or make you curious about the historical relation between bird watching and the American conservation movement. A professor might mention a€?war gardensa€? to you, gardens that sprung up during World Wars I and II in all sorts of areas, including urban areas.
To help you figure out the answers to these questions, you look up some old photos of Boston Common in the Library of Congress. For example, a€?How has Boston Common changed?a€? is not specific enough to answer in one semester.
See our web pages on constructing arguments and positioning them relative to surrounding scholarly literatures. Of course, you may wish to just absorb them as your research question if they fit your research interests well.
This initial finding will help you to frame a research question concerning the relationship between AIDS, crop planting, labor, and landscape transformation in the research site. What if your research topic represents an odd situation and therefore says nothing about how environmental legislation is usually passed? Most professors are delighted when a student is interested in their subject, and will be happy to talk with you about your ideas.
But if you are not able to travel, consider what documents are available at your home institution, town, or state. Let’s start… Talking about jobs in Spanish – Hablando del trabajoTo review a little, the basic way to ask what someone does is with ?En que trabajas?
Developing good research questions is an essential first step of every research project, because good research questions focus your work and provide direction for your next steps. Instead, you could ask, a€?How did large-scale agriculture contribute to the Dust Bowl in the 1930s?a€? This is a more specific question. However, a question like, a€?How did the uses of the grounds in Boston Common change during World War I?a€? might be more manageable for a semester.
Pay special attention to whether certain assumptions underpinning a conclusion should be re-examined, or whether scholars have significant disagreement about a subject. Be careful of overstating the importance of your topic and making assumptions about what your narrative can tell us.
They will also help you pick out your assumptions and biases, and help you articulate your research question in such a way as to acknowledge your biases without relying on them. Although the Internet has made interlibrary loan much easier, if you have to borrow everything from outside libraries it will slow down your research. The purpose of this page is to help you learn how to create research questions from general topics, and to give you useful tips for refining your questions during the research process. A well-articulated research question provides you and your readers with critical information about your project by defining the focus of your research, its scope, and your motivation. You will then create questions about this thing, and figure out what your next steps will be to investigate those questions further. You note that the buildings in this photo exactly match the buildings in the top right corner of the previous photo! It is easy to notice that some job names are written very similarly in both languages, which makes it easier to remember them. Jot down different ideas and perspectives, ask yourself whether you agree or disagree, and try to formulate interesting questions about what you are reading. Also, when narrating something it is important to use sequencing words such as “primero” (first), “luego” (then), “despues”(later) and so on. Last, remember that adjectives and “me gusta” (I like) might be useful to say what you think about an specific occupation.Describing my job – describiendo mi trabajoMi trabajo Alguien me pregunto ayer ?En que trabajas? Cuando era pequeno yo queria ser arquitecto porque me gusta dibujar, pero no soy muy bueno en matematica.
When I was little I wanted to be an architect because I like to draw, but I’m not very good at math. Listening activity: Talking about jobs and professions in SpanishListen to a conversation about jobs and occupations in Spanish between two girls. Take notes of the things you consider relevant in the conversation and then solve the interactive quiz about it. Read the following paragraph in Spanish about someone’s occupation and then complete the quiz. Yo trabajo como enfermera en un hospital local, asi que tengo que levantarme de manana, hacer algunas actividades en mi casa y luego ir a trabajar. Write a paragraph similar to the one before saying what you do in Spanish (lo que tu haces) and the things that you like and dislike about your job (lo que te gusta sobre tu trabajo). The only problem is the conversations have music in the background which is very distracting when the students are focusing on the words. Email check failed, please try again Sorry, your blog cannot share posts by email. Laura R.
The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education. Instructional Materials Available for Download As part of the above-mentioned IES grant, we have developed a variety of instructional materials for teaching tree thinking to undergraduates. Versions of this booklet have been used by, and found effective for, (a) students of varying backgrounds recruited from a psychology subject pool, (b) students enrolled in an introductory biology course for science majors, and (3) biology majors enrolled in an upper-level biology class.
The laboratory has been used with the second two populations mentioned in conjunction with the instructional booklet. Unpublished instructional booklet, Department of Psychology and Human Development, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. Unpublished student laboratory booklet, Department of Psychology and Human Development, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN.
Unpublished laboratory instructors' guide, Department of Psychology and Human Development, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. For the past 9 years, I have been working with Kefyn Catley, an evolutionary biologist and science educator, to investigate college and high school students' understanding of cladograms, the most important tool that contemporary scientists use to reason about evolutionary relationships. A cladogram is a type of hierarchical diagram that depicts hypotheses about nested sets of taxa that are supported by shared, evolutionarily novel characters called synapomorphies. For example, the cladogram shown at the top of the page indicates that one synapomorphy for birds and alligators is that they both possess a gizzard. That is, birds and alligators share a most recent common ancestor (MRCA) that evolved the novel character of possessing a gizzard. A group of taxa consisting of the MRCA and all descendants of that ancestor is called a clade or monophyletic group. Because of the nesting inherent in hierarchical diagrams, birds, alligators, and lizards also comprise a clade. And those three taxa plus mammals (represented by manatees and elephants in the cladogram above) constitute another clade, etc. Macroevolutionary processes operate at the level of species and above, resulting in the formation, radiation, and extinction of higher groups of taxa.
Tree thinking is the ability to understand and reason with evolutionary relationships depicted in cladograms (phylogenetic trees). Thus, inferences based on this classification scheme are likely to be more informative and to have greater practical value than inferences based on other criteria. Our research on tree thinking falls into three broad categories: (a) Influences of diagram design on interpretations of evolutionary relationships, (b) assessing and improving students' tree-thinking skills, and (c) effects of prior knowledge about taxonomic relationships on tree thinking. Studies in the first group have a primarily cognitive psychological basis, with strong implications for education.
Studies in the second group are rooted in science education while being informed by cognitive psychology.
Studies in the third group reflect a more even mix of psychological and educational foundations.
We have used a variety of different kinds of tasks, including those that require diagram comprehension, translation from one diagram format to another, and inference. Our measures of performance include accuracy, types of errors made, written explanations (evidence cited) in support of one's responses, and patterns of eye movements.
Consistent with a large cognitive psychological literature on diagram comprehension, we would expect students' interpretations of diagrams depicting evolutionary relationships to be influenced by how those diagrams are designed. Cladograms are typically drawn in one of two formats: rectangular trees (left diagram in the figure below) and diagonal ladders (right diagram in the figure below). In an analysis of the cladograms printed in a professional journal, Novick and Catley (2007) found that rectangular trees are by far the preferred format among evolutionary biologists: 83% vs.


In high school and biology textbooks, however, the diagonal format was found to occur slightly more often than the rectangular format: 59% vs.
We found that students particularly had trouble understanding the structure of the diagonal format, and this difficulty was especially pronounced for students with weaker backgrounds in biology. We hypothesized that this difficulty stems from the Gestalt principle of good continuation, which makes it difficult to extract the critical information about hierarchical levels from diagonal format cladograms.
Examination of the errors students made in drawing diagonal format cladograms and in translating from the diagonal to the rectangular format supported this hypothesis.
A preliminary report of this research may be found in Novick and Catley (2006); the full report is in Novick and Catley (2007). The method we tested was to add a synapomorphy to mark each branching point in such cladograms.
As reported in Novick, Catley, and Funk (2010), this manipulation greatly improved students' ability to translate diagonal cladograms to the rectangular format. One factor is students' strong bias to scan cladograms from left to right, following their highly practiced directional pattern for reading written text. The second factor is their preference to scan along the main diagonal line at the base of the diagonal cladogram. These two factors in combination mean that students scan diagonal cladograms such as that shown in the above figure from left to right and from bottom to top, which impairs their ability to uncover the correct pattern of nesting. If the diagrams are simply reflected so that the main diagonal runs from the top left to the bottom right of the cladogram (a seemingly trivial design factor), students scan from left to right and from top to bottom, which facilitates joining taxa to reflect the correct pattern of nesting. Thus, students were more successful in translating diagonal cladograms to the rectangular format when they were presented in the latter than the former orientation.
Such diagrams, although they are commonly found in high school and college textbooks (Catley & Novick, 2008), appear to be poorly conceived and may reinforce evolutionary misconceptions. We wanted to determine whether the information extracted from such diagrams is in accordance with contemporary understanding of evolutionary theory. Our analyses documented persistent misconceptions that fall broadly into two categories: (a) Evolution as an anagenetic rather than a cladogenetic process and (b) evolution as a teleological (purpose-driven) process. Cladogenesis, the accepted means of speciation, is a process whereby one species splits into two when the population of a parent species is fragmented, and selection continues separately in each group driven by the pressures of each local environment.
In a follow-up study conducted by Courtney Shade for her honors project, we compared students' responses to evolutionary relationship questions when they accompanied cladograms (in the rectangular and diagonal formats) versus other evolutionary diagrams often seen in textbooks.
As predicted, we found that the textbook diagrams, which contained linear components, were more likely than the two cladogram formats to yield explanations of speciation as an anagenetic process. In contrast, the branching cladogram formats yielded more appropriate interpretations in terms of levels of ancestry than did the textbook diagrams. If the branches were rotated at the point indicated by the synapomorphy amniotic egg, the two mammals (manatee and elephant) would move to the middle of the diagram and the lizard would move to the far right location, without altering the pattern of connections among the taxa. If the cladogram were oriented vertically rather than horizontally, a similar rotation would move the mammals from the top to the middle and the lizard from the middle to the top. In two studies, we examined college and high school students' propensity to state that humans (versus honeybees) are the most highly evolved taxon when they occupied an end (far right or top) versus middle position in the cladogram (Phillips, Novick, & Catley, 2013). Both age groups were quite likely to incorrectly say that humans are the most highly evolved taxon of those depicted in the cladogram but highly unlikely to make the same claim about honeybees, even though those two taxa were similarly situated in their cladograms. This finding replicates earlier research on students' misconceptions about human evolution.
From a diagram design perspective, the more interesting result is that for the cladogram that included humans, students were more likely to say that taxon is most highly evolved when it occupied an end rather than a middle position in the cladogram. Documenting students' tree-thinking skills based on naturally-occurring instruction in college and high school biology classes is a critical first step for developing new curricula to improve students' ability to engage in this important 21st century skill.
Accordingly, a second major focus of our research program concerns students' ability to engage in tree thinking. In this study, students answered questions such as: (a) "What character was possessed by the most recent common ancestor of lizards and mammals?" [answer is amniotic egg], (b) "Which taxa did not evolve from an ancestor that had lungs?" [answer is lobsters, spiders, perch, and flounder], and (c) "Are lungfish more closely related to mammals or to flounder?
What evidence supports your answer?" [answer is mammals because lungfish share a more recent common ancestor with mammals than they do with flounder].
Briefly, we found that students with a stronger background in biology did better than those with a weaker biology background on all of our core categories of tree-thinking questions.
For the simplest questions -- identify characters (a) and identify taxa (b), for which students just had to read information off the cladograms, the difference between the two groups was larger for the diagonal format than for the rectangular format. For the more difficult relationship (c) and inference questions, the biology background difference was consistent across all other manipulations. In general, the stronger background students did better in terms of both accuracy and quality of supporting evidence cited. Replicating the results of Novick and Catley (2007), this study also found poorer performance when the evolutionary relationships were depicted in the diagonal than the rectangular format.
Except for the easiest question types, even stronger background students found the diagonal format more difficult to understand than the rectangular format. Several cognitive and perceptual factors were found to affect students' performance, including, for example, the Gestalt principle of good continuation and whether the question was worded affirmatively or negatively. Second, to inform our adaptation of the undergraduate curriculum for use with high school students, we collected data on tenth-graders' ability to engage in tree thinking (Catley, Phillips, & Novick, in press). We have conducted three studies evaluating our novel tree-thinking curriculum for college students, which are described in the next several paragraphs.
A manuscript reporting the development of our college curriculum and associated assessment instrument, as well as the results of our implementation studies, is currently in preparation (Novick et al., 2013). Because of serious validity issues with the only published macroevolution assessment instrument (Novick & Catley, 2012), we developed our own tree-thinking assessment for our curriculum studies. In the spring of 2012, we conducted an initial test of a high school version of our curriculum in 10th grade biology classes in a rural high school in western North Carolina. A laboratory test of this instruction was conducted by Emily Schreiber for her honors project. A Cohen's d of 1.42 for the core tree-thinking skills composite measure indicated a large overall effect of instruction. Although there was no delay between completing the instructional booklet and taking the test, students were not allowed to refer back to the instructional booklet to answer the test questions.
To ensure comparability of the student samples, we restricted this comparison to the results for just the stronger background students in the present study. For two types of tree-thinking questions, our self-paced instructional booklet led to comparable performance as the lengthier classroom instruction. For two additional types of tree-thinking questions, our instructional booklet led to better performance.
The enhanced tree-thinking instruction condition consisted of a revision of the self-paced instructional booklet, two days of lecture (taught by Kefyn), and a phylogenetics laboratory we wrote for the laboratory portion of the course. The business-as-usual instruction condition consisted of the phylogenetics laboratory we wrote and whatever material on phylogenetics the instructor chose to cover in the lecture portion of the course. Because students in the business-as-usual condition did not receive a heavy dose of phyogenetics in lecture, we judged it unwise to announce the posttest in advance.
We expected those students would complain about being tested on material that might not have been covered. Because students were prevented from studying for this test, their scores were lower than they otherwise would have been.
Nevertheless, it is possible to look for a difference between the two instructional conditions in the amount of improvement from pretest to posttest.
Statistical analyses confirmed the superiority of our enhanced tree-thinking instruction over business-as-usual instruction: (a) Students who received our enhanced instruction had higher scores than did students who received business-as-usual instruction. The difference in the amount of improvement yielded a Cohen's d = 0.59, which represents a medium size effect for the increased effectiveness of our enhanced tree-thinking instruction relative to business-as-usual. The instruction, which occurred during the first four weeks of the semester, consisted of a further revision of the instructional booklet, additional days of instruction during the lecture portion of the class, a revision of the phylogenetics laboratory used in the introductory biology class (Study 2), additional laboratory and homework activities, instruction in how to interpret cladograms in the more difficult diagonal format, and field work.
The 17 students in this class across the two semesters combined completed our revised tree-thinking assessment before instruction began and then again a few weeks after midterm. Most questions on the assessment, like all the questions on the assessments used in Studies 1 and 2, concerned evolutionary relationships depicted in the rectangular format. A smaller number of questions concerned evolutionary relationships depicted in the diagonal format so that we could gauge the effectiveness of our instruction concerning how to interpret hierarchical structure in that format.
We also computed separate composite tree-thinking measures for the comparable questions asked about cladograms in the rectangular and diagonal formats. Analysis of these data revealed that (a) students received significantly higher tree-thinking scores when the questions were asked about relationships depicted in the rectangular than the diagonal format, (b) students received significantly higher tree-thinking scores on the posttest than on the pretest, and (c) there was no interaction between cladogram format and time of test, indicating that our instruction in how to interpret the diagonal format did not reduce the decrement in tree-thinking skill associated with having to reason about relationships depicted in that format. In fact, the trend was for the improvement from pretest to posttest to be greater for rectangular than diagonal format questions. In our manuscript (Novick et al., 2013), we also report more qualitative indicators of the positive effect of our tree-thinking instruction on students' learning. Reading phylogenetic trees: Effects of tree orientation and text processing on comprehension.
Reasoning about evolutionary history: The effects of biology background on post-secondary students' knowledge of most recent common ancestry and homoplasy.




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