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October 5, 2016

The Power of Interest and Independent Study

By Stacey Burt
Grades 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    Teaching research skills to middle grade students can be a blast, as long as the topics are of high interest. In today’s educational setting, differentiating for students’ needs is the norm, but for many learners, finding an entry point for independent study can be tricky. When planning a unit on research basics via independent study, I generally begin with what kids like. Scholastic Printables has a great Student Interest Survey that is available for free. This is one of the first things I have my students do at the beginning of each school year. It provides valuable information on and insight into my learners, gives me instant conversation starters, drives my planning, and supports the close-knit culture in my classroom.

    We all learn better when we are interested in the topic or subject we are studying. Consider your hobbies; I am willing to bet you spend your free time devoted to activities you are interested in and passionate about.

    Research shows that independent study opportunities are found at nearly every level of education in the United States. I should note here, when working with students, I vary the number of independent projects throughout the year based on the needs of each cohort of children I teach. Some years naturally lend themselves to more or fewer independent projects based on the dynamic and academic needs of the children I serve. Finally, while it is identified as a tool for meeting the needs of high ability learners, I believe an independent project is an option that should be available for all.

    This year, I serve children in four different schools. The upper grade students I meet with have all begun independent studies. We started by considering their interests and strengths, and the progress has been fascinating. For this post, I would like to highlight the work of one student in particular to demonstrate the power of interest. Enter, Isaiah.

    Look closely and you will see a holographic projection of a moth floating above the computer screen. This was Isaiah’s latest investigation for his independent study, making a hologram viewer with very simple materials. Through the student interest inventory, it was discovered that Isaiah is very interested in science, video games, computer graphics, and virtual reality. As a teacher, you may think, “what do I do with that?” First, I needed to do some research myself, so I could inform and guide Isaiah in his thinking. Through conferring, I was able to steer Isaiah into the world of holography and the study of optics and physics. To date, he has researched the work of Dr. Dennis Gabor and astronaut Ellen Ochoa.

    As Isaiah’s interest in the topics have piqued, he has begun to think and write about how images exist in the XYZ coordinate system, which has led to conversations and experimentation with isometric and orthographic design and plans for 3-D printing. He is not only researching about topics he is interested in, Isaiah is considering ethical issues and implications for our species and other species that may be impacted by these technologies. His learning is authentic and sticky. His learning via independent study helps him see value in school. It assists him in connecting the skills taught in the classroom to other disciplines and to the real world. His world.

    Once Isaiah’s research and experimentation is complete, he will evaluate the information and begin to design and prepare for the classroom TED Talk he will deliver to his classmates (the culminating activity). The Best Research Reports Ever is a great Scholastic resource for beginning research with your students:

    For resources on TED Talks, I have used the following books with my students to help them prepare:

    For more information on the topics that Isaiah is researching, please consider the following publications from Scholastic:

    Teaching research skills to middle grade students can be a blast, as long as the topics are of high interest. In today’s educational setting, differentiating for students’ needs is the norm, but for many learners, finding an entry point for independent study can be tricky. When planning a unit on research basics via independent study, I generally begin with what kids like. Scholastic Printables has a great Student Interest Survey that is available for free. This is one of the first things I have my students do at the beginning of each school year. It provides valuable information on and insight into my learners, gives me instant conversation starters, drives my planning, and supports the close-knit culture in my classroom.

    We all learn better when we are interested in the topic or subject we are studying. Consider your hobbies; I am willing to bet you spend your free time devoted to activities you are interested in and passionate about.

    Research shows that independent study opportunities are found at nearly every level of education in the United States. I should note here, when working with students, I vary the number of independent projects throughout the year based on the needs of each cohort of children I teach. Some years naturally lend themselves to more or fewer independent projects based on the dynamic and academic needs of the children I serve. Finally, while it is identified as a tool for meeting the needs of high ability learners, I believe an independent project is an option that should be available for all.

    This year, I serve children in four different schools. The upper grade students I meet with have all begun independent studies. We started by considering their interests and strengths, and the progress has been fascinating. For this post, I would like to highlight the work of one student in particular to demonstrate the power of interest. Enter, Isaiah.

    Look closely and you will see a holographic projection of a moth floating above the computer screen. This was Isaiah’s latest investigation for his independent study, making a hologram viewer with very simple materials. Through the student interest inventory, it was discovered that Isaiah is very interested in science, video games, computer graphics, and virtual reality. As a teacher, you may think, “what do I do with that?” First, I needed to do some research myself, so I could inform and guide Isaiah in his thinking. Through conferring, I was able to steer Isaiah into the world of holography and the study of optics and physics. To date, he has researched the work of Dr. Dennis Gabor and astronaut Ellen Ochoa.

    As Isaiah’s interest in the topics have piqued, he has begun to think and write about how images exist in the XYZ coordinate system, which has led to conversations and experimentation with isometric and orthographic design and plans for 3-D printing. He is not only researching about topics he is interested in, Isaiah is considering ethical issues and implications for our species and other species that may be impacted by these technologies. His learning is authentic and sticky. His learning via independent study helps him see value in school. It assists him in connecting the skills taught in the classroom to other disciplines and to the real world. His world.

    Once Isaiah’s research and experimentation is complete, he will evaluate the information and begin to design and prepare for the classroom TED Talk he will deliver to his classmates (the culminating activity). The Best Research Reports Ever is a great Scholastic resource for beginning research with your students:

    For resources on TED Talks, I have used the following books with my students to help them prepare:

    For more information on the topics that Isaiah is researching, please consider the following publications from Scholastic:

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