Saturday, September 24, 2011

the research paper strikes again

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Princess teaches middle schoolers, who, if you did not know, are a unique breed of human. Princess’ favorite thing about middle schoolers is that they can be excited about EVER.Y.THING., as long as it is presented properly.

Enter The Research Paper. Experience has taught Princess that The Research Paper regularly makes students break out in hives and has probably left many teachers with a substance abuse problem. This was the challenge for last year's class: Introduce The Research Paper and do it in such a way that overly-excitable students will accidentally think that it will be FUN. Evil? Princess doesn’t think so. (For example, if you ever get a bad haircut, Princess will NOT tell you it is bad, because there’s nothing you can do après le “chop,” and you might as well enjoy it in ignorance. Princess applies this same it’s-bad-but-we-should-pretend-it’s-good philosophy to any difficult assignments in her class.)

For The Research Paper, Princess chose a ridiculous topic that would both fascinate and disgust her students: RODENTS. (In middle school, there is a positive correlation between the grossness of an assignment’s topic and the enthusiasm with which a student approaches the assignment.) The assignment was to write a comparing/contrasting piece on the world’s smallest rodent (pygmy jerboa: size of a golfball, hops on two feet like a kangaroo, simultaneously adorable and disturbing) and the world’s largest rodent (capybara: size of a large dog, can be kept as a pet, simultaneously adorable and disturbing).

This is what happened when she presented the assignment:

Princess: And here is a picture of Caplin! He’s a capybara that lives in Texas and you can be his friend on Facebook.
Class: He’s so cute! We love him!
Princess: Here’s a video of Caplin swimming in a pool!
Class: WE LOVE HIM!!
Random few students: Gross. We hate him, yet still want to google him.
Princess: Great idea! Let’s research him online, and we can write down important facts that we learn.
Class: YAY!!
Princess: Look, here’s Caplin’s website. You can buy one of these stuffed capybaras and the money goes to pay Caplin’s medical bills.
Class: Let’s buy one! We want to buy one!
Princess: Great! I actually bought one yesterday and he’s on the way! We helped pay Caplin’s medical bills—isn’t that a good feeling?
Class: Yes! We love research papers!
Random smart student: Why does Caplin’s website say 7/10/2007 – 1/04/2011?
Princess: Silence. Wide eyes.
Class: Mrs. Princess!! Tell us!! Is Caplin okay?!?! We are flipping out!
Princess: Um. I think Caplin died. Yesterday.
Class: WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA/mass devastation/gnashing of teeth
Princess (to herself): I knew research papers were evil.

-5 minutes of silence/holding back tears-

Princess: And this is why it's important to include the date we access a website in our MLA citation.

Now for the good news:
  1. The students did an AMAZING job on their papers (average grade was a 93!) and were superstars about citing their sources and producing quality writing. Princess was very proud and believes they did it in honor of Caplin.
  2. The stuffed capybara still sits on the file cabinet, and is dearly loved by the students.
  3. Caplin’s family adopted a new capybara named Garibaldi. You can read about him at
  4. Princess is considering a different topic for this year’s research paper.

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