Friday, August 22, 2008

Research Projects That Motivate

As we begin the new school year, we need to think about student motivation and engagement. Inquiry-based learning is one of the best ways to motivate students. Students who are able to inquire about things they are passionate about or about things that have a direct impact on their lives are engaged and motivated. So how can we bridge the content we have to teach with student's passion and interests? Design good research projects.

Doug Johnson has 2 posts where he outlines what this means. In his first post he writes about research questions having an 'action element' to them. Take a look at his post where he shows a level 4 research question:

Level Four: My research answers a personal question about the topic, and contains information that may be of use to decision-makers as they make policy or distribute funds. The result of my research is a well support conclusion that contains a call for action on the part of an organization or government body. There will be a plan to distribute this information.
Primary example: How can our school help stop the growth in unwanted and abandoned animals in our community?
Secondary example: How might high schools change their curricula to meet the needs of students wanting a career in manufacturing in Minnesota?

Think about the motivation of adolescents who work at finding the answer to the above question.

Johnson linked to a post he wrote back in 1999 characteristics of excellent projects. Here is a summary:

  1. Motivational research projects have a clarity of purpose and expectations.
  2. Motivational research projects give students choices.
  3. Motivational research projects are relevant to the student’s life.
  4. Motivational research projects stress higher level thinking skills and creativity.
  5. Motivational research projects answer real questions.
  6. Motivational research projects involve a variety of information finding activities.
  7. Motivational learning tends to be hands-on.
  8. The use of technology can be exciting for many students.
  9. Good projects often use formats that use multiple senses.
  10. Interesting projects are often complex, but are broken into manageable steps.
  11. Collaborative learning is often stimulating and results in better products than individual work.
  12. Motivational research projects have results that are shared with people who care and respond.
  13. Learning that is assessed by an authentic tool is more meaningful that a paper and pencil test.
  14. Samples and examples give the learner a clear idea of what quality work looks like.
  15. Well-designed projects allow the learner to reflect, revisit, revise, and improve their final projects.
  16. Teachers and media specialists who enjoy authentic, project-based learning are comfortable with a loss of control over time, the final product, and “correct” answers.
  17. These teachers and media specialists accept active students rather than passive students.
  18. The professional’s belief that given enough time, resources, and motivation, all students are capable of high performance is critical.
  19. Like media specialists, teachers who do exciting projects recognize that their expertise in the learning and research process rather than in any particular subject area.
  20. Teacher enthusiasm becomes more important than ever.
  21. Teachers and media specialists who work on these kinds of project know that they don’t always work the first time.
Keep these in mind as you design projects for your students. In Johnsons's post he elaborates on these points with examples. You can also get more information about quality research projects by accessing our board's resources: Imagine the Learning, Research Success@ your library (see page 23 and 24 of the link for ordering info) and our new Research web page that you can access here.


paul c said...

Excellent post about motivating teachers to design a research project which will interest and motivate students.

Doug Johnson's list of criteria are comprehensive and very helpful. This should be required reading for all high school teachers especially about mid way in the semester as they think about the Independent Study Project.

It also provides a great starting (or end) point for a workshop on designing research projects.

Sharon Seslija said...

I offered sessions on designing quality research projects last year and hope to do so again this year as well.