So what’s your impression of the South Carolina primaries? Do you think Climate Change is for real, or is it a ploy of the liberal left? Are the New York Giants going to the Superbowl? Is Race to the Top driving school reform? Should herbicides be used to control or eradicate invasive Eurasian Water-Milfoil in Adirondack lakes? Do you believe we need more revenues to balance the government budget? The variety of hot button issues is endless in this country, and knowing how people perceive them is both interesting and useful information. This holds especially true in P-12 education. If we want to stretch students in school and have them College and Career ready, then we need to bring student research into the classroom. Research stokes student interests and imaginations by delving more deeply into the perceptions of others, and by teaching students how to analyze and infer underlying beliefs, trends, attitudes, and values.
Many survey tools exist on the market, and I’ve used SurveyMonkey in my research efforts. I also enjoy AmericasMind, a new site developed in the Southern Adirondack Region of New York by a former school psychologist and a college software engineer. Unique to AmericasMind is the opportunity for viewers to see the hot button issues and responses of others who post on the site and to “Speak Out, Comment, Solve, or Vote” on those issues. Regardless of the instrument used, the instructional objectives of surveys and sites like AmericasMind are to promote analysis, inquiry, and design. To cultivate cognition and metacognition, and unfurl the underlying values and beliefs of others. This type of thinking goes well beyond using text-based evidence to support arguments or claims, and is the right direction to move as we ready students for life-long success.
The Common Core Learning Standards have raised the bar with the six instructional shifts in literacy and math, and we have the opportunity to extend those shifts through student research projects. By teaching students what research methodology truly looks and feels like (beyond the static multi-step scientific method of most curricula), we can cultivate more pragmatic, self-directed learners with the tools to answer questions that matter to them. Rather than accept most anything presented in the media, we can give children an objective lens through self-directed inquiry. In so doing, we will graduate children more likely contribute to a democratic society and more confident to speak out, comment, solve, or vote with conviction on issues of importance.