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Online Professional Learning and
Technical Assistance for
21st Century Community Learning Centers

Become Active Investigators

Young people, especially elementary-aged children, may have a tough time pinpointing community needs. By becoming active investigators, youth can see firsthand some of the issues facing the community. Students of all ages can become better informed about what’s working, what’s not working and what kinds of direct actions on their part could make a difference.

Active community investigation can take many forms, some simple and some more complex. Younger students may benefit from in-person experiences such as community walks designed to highlight such problems as litter, closed recreation areas, unsafe street crossings and other local issues.

Older students may be able to set up and record interviews with public officials or community members who want to voice particular concerns. They may also use the Internet to research public policies, review community budgets or document the history of a complex local issue.

Active research and investigation can take many forms. The list below provides some examples:

  • Community mapping (a process whereby physical or digital maps are used to visually locate services, problem areas or other entities)
  • Community walks
  • Interviews with public officials or community members
  • Internet research
  • Surveys and neighborhood canvassing (Note: Safety precautions must be taken, whenever youth are completing an activity like canvassing.)
  • Attending meetings and presentations (i.e., a town hall meeting or a neighborhood association meeting)
  • Perusing historical records or newspaper clippings

Try this community mapping tool to jump-start your next project.

Then, students can begin to narrow down a broader topic into a focused driving question. When you begin this process, make sure to use active engagement techniques such as anonymous votes, surveys, or small group discussion, which allows all students to have voice and choice without making anyone feel singled out or ignored.

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Project-Based Learning