My students are busily engaged in writing research papers. For 7th graders, this is a new process, one that requires a significant amount of time, effort and energy. This year, I have been impressed by their dedication to searching for sources, developing pointed theses, and asking questions about the big ideas.
The research paper is stuctured in steps, and students have just completed the note taking step, complete with at least 25 note cards detailing the source infomation and how that evidence and data will be used to support a thesis.
Today, NS, with tears in her eyes, explained to me, “You won’t believe this, but my mom was cleaning up my desk and she threw the notecards in the trash.” At first, I thought there must be a simple solution to the problem — just search the trash, as unpleasant as that might be, to find the ejected notecards.
However, NS, explained further, “We live in a 38 floor building and she threw the trash down the chute.” Ah, an entirely different problem. I chortled, though it was not really funny, and asked whether the note cards were suffering in some trash-infused circle of hell. I’ve always pictured those buildings with cavernous, creepy trash heaps, where evil must certainly lurk. Even more, garbage chutes bring to mind the bad egg chute in Willy Wonka. Poor NS is no Veruca Salt, but her notecards suffered a similar fate.
A fellow student proposed that she find the end point of the chute, in an effort to reclaim the note cards, but I wondered if she should risk an encounter with flesh eating bacteria and the fires of hell all in the name of her research paper for 7th grade. We nodded sagely in agreement — entering the chute, Veruca Salt style, for the notecards was out of the question.
My colleague asked what I was going to do about the lost notecards, and I said NS would just try to reconstruct her ideas, relying upon her memory and the sources she still had at home on her desk. At least her mom didn’t pitch the books along with the notecards. He retorted, “She’ll just use all of that information in her really large brain and write an amazing paper, no doubt.”
And it is probably true — the work of gathering the data is done, and it might be some work to reconstruct her evidence, but NS has already learned significant amounts of information about her topic, so this could be a true test of the process, indeed.
And for NS and her mom, I hope that forgiveness and apology allow them to avoid the garbage chute of mother-daughter turmoil!