Thursday, December 5, 2013

Students Excited About Research?!

I must confess that I might be just as excited as my tenth grade student!  Just before Thanksgiving, I introduced our second quarter research project.  I've never seen a group of students so excited about doing research!  Our research project, called a 20% time project, has students using 20% of our English class time each week to work on research of their choice.  The idea stems from a practice that the 3M company and Google have been using for years and gained traction as more and more people read Daniel Pink’s book Drive.  Pink, a former speech writer for Al Gore turned author, cites an idea that started with the 3M company and was expanded by Google.  Google encourages its employees to spend one day each work week, 20 percent of their work time, focusing on their own projects.  Why?  Well, it turns out that when people have autonomy over their work, time to master their skills, and a clear purpose, they are more motivated to learn.  And scientific studies and research supports this claim. In fact, Google’s philosophy of 20 percent time is how we now have Gmail! So students in our tenth grade English class have to opportunity to research anything...yes, anything!

Working either individually or in small groups, students will be completing a series of research tasks, including writing a formal project proposal, putting together a project pitch video, blogging their progress each week, reading a text connected with their research, interviewing an expert, and producing something to share their research with an audience outside of our classroom.   This is not simply a research paper.  Rather, once students finish the research phase of this project, they must do something with their new found knowledge.  Students will be creating products and presentations (either individually or in small groups) that will extend beyond the classroom, such as documentary videos for our school's weekly television program, web pages, pamphlets, newspaper or magazine editorials, an article for our school newspaper, letters, public speaking presentations, fund raising, music, plays…or whatever we can think of to best make our community aware of our research topics.  The idea is to reach an audience outside the doors of our classroom in order to share our research.

And the ideas that students have started to research are incredibly diverse!  I have students looking into:
  • how to create a documentary film about Philadelphia,
  • how to write a screenplay,
  • how to start a cupcake company,
  • learning quilting,
  • creating an app,
  • how to build a computer,
  • learning to play hockey,
  • what it takes to become a National Geographic photographer,
  • becoming a certified in search and rescue,
  • starting a new student club,
  • learning C++ computer language,
  • putting together a documentary on a young professional dancer,
  • blogging about different psychological and social issues faced by teens, and
  • how to become a horror writer, and so, so, so many more ideas!

As a teacher, I never expected to come into class having students begging for time to work on their research! Interested in learning more? Check out the playlist below that I shared with my students:

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