I’m excited to tell you about a high school course that we’ve been offering in BCPS since 2012, the Independent Research Seminar. This is an elective course which sophomores, juniors or seniors can take for a semester or a full year at the Standard, Honors or GT/Advanced Academics level. The Independent Research Seminar offers students a unique opportunity to do in-depth original research on a topic of their own choice. For the last five years, we’ve had students researching a wide variety of topics in virtually every discipline. Students learn a rigorous research process that includes a literature review and subject-specific research methodologies characteristic of college level research. They use an Online Research Framework to work both independently and under the guidance of content area teachers and the school library media specialist, who provides information literacy instruction for each step in the process. Students also consult with outside experts, and may have an opportunity to conduct research at an off-campus site. For example, we’ve had students work with scientists at a Johns Hopkins University scientific research lab, at area museums and historical societies, at local companies like Lockheed Martin, and at government agencies like the NSA, to name just a few. For several students, this course has led to an Internship and even employment. Students present their research to an audience of their peers, parents, mentors, school administrators and teachers at our annual Student Research Symposium. This course is a great alternative to the AP Capstone course, which is not necessarily appropriate or appealing to all students. We have had diverse students take this course over the last 5 years, including English Language Learners, a student on the Autism spectrum, and a few reluctant learners who were otherwise not fully engaged in high school.
At the 2017 Common Ground Conference in May, I gave a presentation about this course with my colleague Joquetta Johnson, the Library Media Specialist at Randallstown High School who has been teaching the course for four years. For a good introduction to what the course is all about, view our Conference presentation Student Research Gets Personal: The Independent Research Seminar, which includes student artifacts and videos.
Our High School library media specialists use this brochure to promote the Independent Research Seminar course to their students at registration time each year. Students enrolled in the course use this Online Research Framework to access resources throughout the research process. Course instructors use Units and Lessons that correspond to each step in the Framework to facilitate instruction; these lessons are housed in our BCPS One Learning Management System (so unfortunately I am unable to share those Lessons with you). We will be revising the Lessons and Online Research Framework this summer (please excuse broken links). We plan to incorporate GID strategies and tools, including some from the latest GID in Action: High School book.
The BCPS Student Researchers Wiki features Research Symposium video highlights, news articles, and digital copies of Symposium event programs for the last five years. You can read students’ research abstracts in these programs to get an idea of the wide range of topics they have chosen to research. Students are given secure folders on the wiki for uploading and organizing their work, and they can also use it as a collaborative workspace.
Although this course was written in 2011 (before our introduction to Guided Inquiry Design), I think you’ll agree that the model we developed bears many similarities to GID. For example, students keep a reflection journal throughout the research process, and they often engage in small group collaboration (e.g. Inquiry Circles). Students sometimes choose topics that interested them in one of their other courses, or which relate to their college and career aspirations. In recent years, many students have chosen to explore issues related to diversity, equity and social justice. These are issues that are extremely relevant to students’ own personal lives and experiences. They would not have had the opportunity to explore these personally meaningful topics in depth, if not for the Independent Research Seminar course. This course is unique in providing that level of learning choice and voice, while empowering students with information literacy skills, not only for college and career readiness, but for citizenship and for life.
It’s been my pleasure to share some of our work around GID and student research at BCPS with you this week. I hope you find some inspiration and ideas that you can apply to your own practice. Enjoy the rest of your summer!
Kelly Ray, BCPS