The I-Search is research and writing project assigned to all 7th-graders in the Mountain View Whisman School District.
According to Jenson, where many school assignments and projects merely move students toward achieving state education standards, the I-Search "really connects with them. They actually care, and because they care, they learn the skills that we are trying to teach."
The I-Search is powerful, Jenson says, because it is personal. In the I-Search, students are tasked with researching and reporting on the major events of whatever year it was when their parents were in 7th grade.
The children look at newspaper articles and almanac entries from that year, conduct online research and interview their parents for the project. The project takes about two months to complete, Jenson says. She assigns the project the first week of February and students hand their finished projects in on April 5.
They write poems, reflective pieces and essays. Ultimately, they turn in a final product that will usually range from 12 to 20 pages in length.
And though even a 12-page paper seems like a massive undertaking at first to all the children, Jenson says, even students who frequently do not turn assignments will turn in highly polished I-Search projects.
"The freak out, immediately," Jenson says, explaining the average child's reaction when they first hear how long their teacher expects their finished assignment to be. However, by the time they are done, "they are so proud of themselves."
"It is my favorite day of the year," Jenson says of the day she collects the I-Search assignments. "It is the reason I teach."