This is the fourth year that Simpson Elementary School has offered a Research Ambassadors program led by Sam Northern, library media specialist for the school.
"We always try to get it started in September, early on in the school year, giving teachers enough time to get to know their students and what students might benefit from the program and also show potential for conducting independent research and completing the project," Northern said.
One student from each second and third grade homeroom is selected to participate in the program and they learn about research skills and different informational sources that they then share with their class. Each year they complete an independent project or a group project that they present to their class during library time.
"It is a great opportunity for students who need to be challenged in a way were they get to choose what they are learning about," Northern said.
The ambassadors get to use new technology, virtual reality, augmented-reality, break out games and different tools that they may not be able to learn during the regular library class period. They also gain experience presenting their finished project to their class during their library time.
The first year they picked a country and researched everything they could about their specific country.
"I always do a project along with them, so when I went to Antarctica that was my place that I researched," Northern said.
Northern said he prefers to teach by explaining how he did the research for his own project. He encouraged the students to talk to their families to see if they had any connections with any particular country.
The second year Northern was inspired by his time as a teacher at sea where he studied plankton so the research ambassadors researched marine animals. Last year, he was again inspired to study countries, but the students had to research a country that connected to one of their passions.
"I wanted the kids to research something they are passionate about, an interest, a hobby, but connect that with how other people in other places approach that hobby," Northern said.
He said one student was passionate about creating holiday art so she research Finland where Santa's Village is located in Lapland.
"They learned how they celebrate Christmas in Finland and what kind of decorations they do and they would teach their class how to do that passion based on what they learned from that country," Northern said.
He said another student was passionate about gaming so he researched South Africa since they have a huge gaming competition.
"It is just trying to tie what you are interested in here, but realizing that other people around the world are interested in it too, but it might be different," Northern said.
This years Research Ambassador students will be learning about American History, specifically the Cherokee Tribe and their migration out of Arkansas creating the Trail of Tears. Also, during that time period the students will learn about ships coming from Africa.
The goal of the entire lesson is to eventually learn about the Gullah people whose ancestors were West African slaves and preserve their culture through song, dance, language and basket weaving.
"Trying to all connect that people have been moving and connecting all over, but they still have stories to tell and they still preserve what their life was like in Africa or different places," Northern said.
The students work on the project all year and depending on when they get finished they may start working on another, he said. They also showcase the projects and what they have learned at the STEAM Showcase.
"They are learning a lot of soft skills along the way, they learn how to make decisions about what informational sources to use, they evaluate informational sources to know which ones are most appropriate, they get to work with in teams, they get to present to an authentic audience and what they are learning about is relevant," Northern said.
He said many parents come up to him and tell him the Research Ambassador program is their kid's favorite part of school.
"If you set those high expectations, give them the resources they need they can, I think, live up to their full potential," Northern said.
Students will be select by teachers within the next week or so for the Research Ambassadors program, he said.