Understand the Process and Problem: A Student-Centered Approach to Research

 

research quote

The Understanding the Information phase looks different depending upon your specific project. If kids are designing and implementing a service learning project, they might do needs assessments and evaluate data. If they’re researching the setting of their novel, they’re probably going to interview a few people and read some articles.

But regardless of the design thinking project, there’s a common trend in this phase of the LAUNCH Cycle. Students should be taking their questions from the Ask Tons of Question phase and now moving into research as they Understand the Process or Problem.

It’s important that students have a sense of choice and agency in this process. They should choose the questions, the sources, and the process. It shouldn’t feel like a dreary process. It should feel like an exploration. It should feel like geeking out on something they find fascinating!

We Need a Bigger Definition of Research

It’s for this reason that we need a bigger definition of research. Research is not limited to a library or a set of books or even a computer. Research is anything we do to answer our questions and make sense of new information. It might involve reading a book, but it might also involve gathering and examining a data set. It can help to think about four key methods of research in which students of all ages can engage.

1. Research through Reading

The first research approach involves finding information by looking at text-based documents. This is, by far, the most common type of research in school. After all, the information is available at their fingertips. By searching the interwebz, they can find the answers and grow in their understanding of the information. Still, there is power in having students access Google Scholar and check out articles that go beyond what they might initial find in a typical Google Search.

2. Multimedia Research

Some of the best information online isn’t text-based. Think of the last time you tried to figure out how to learn something new. Chances are you didn’t limit yourself to text-based answers. You probably watched a few YouTube tutorials along the way. Similarly, if you’re an avid podcast listener, you’ve probably learned about concepts from a different angle by listening to 99% Invisible or Invisibilia or Hardcore History.

Sadly, I’ve seen too many classrooms where students are discouraged from using multimedia resources. They’re seen as being less real than a text-based resources.

Video, pictures, and audio resources make concepts to come alive in a way that reading alone does not. It’s not that multimedia resources are better but that they allow students to see things and to hear things that they can’t see or hear in a text.

3. Exploring Data

Another research option involves exploring data. This last year, my son got excited about the plants growing in his classroom garden:

“We recorded our data on graphs, dad. And guess what? Even though the plants don’t look like they’re growing much, I can prove it with my graph!”

When you think of things that typically ignite the passion of a third grader, data and graphing probably don’t hit your radar. However, this conversation with my son reminded me that when data is meaningful to the student, it’s actually pretty exciting.

Students can access tons of data online. But they can also connect with other students in share data, increasing the sample size and finding larger trends. By using a spreadsheet or a Google Form, students can collect data in a connected way and then share their observations both synchronously and asynchronously. I remember when my students conducted a needs assessment and then shared their data with students in other cities. They looked at trends relating to perceptions of social issues in their neighborhoods. It was a reminder of the human and contextual side of data.

4. Interviews

We typically think of research as something static. Students read this or watch that. But when students conduct interviews, they are able to ask questions, get direct answers, and ask follow-up questions. It’s a personalized, powerful way for students to learn about a specific topic.

This might involve interviewing a specific person who is an expert on the subject. They might talk to a professor who has taught the subject, an author who has written about it, or someone within a certain profession who has inside knowledge. Other times, they might interview a person who has been impacted by a system, idea, or problem.

CURIOUS ABOUT DESIGN THINKING

Still curious about design thinking? Here are a few more resources:

Get Your FREE Design Thinking Toolkit and Maker Project

Curious about design thinking? This toolkit provides a set of free, out-of-the-box resources you can use from day one. Simply fill out the form on the left and the entire toolkit will be sent to your inbox. You’ll also be enrolled in the Creative Classroom newsletter. The toolkit includes:

1. Getting Started with Design Thinking: a comprehensive eBook explaining the LAUNCH Cycle

2. The LAUNCH Cycle Video

3. A free maker project that you can adapt to your K-12 classroom

4. The Creative Classroom Assessment toolbox, complete with nine assessments you can integrate into a design thinking project