What Does Research Look Like?

This year I’m lucky to be teaching an Independent Research class – but I’m unlucky in that the first week of the class was the same week as the AISL conference, and also the last week of classes before Spring Break. In case you were wondering, it is not easy to launch a course when you’re across the country from your students. I wanted to get to know my students as researchers and get a sense of how they approach the research process; the challenge of figuring out how to do that when I wasn’t there definitely pushed my creativity and, if I do say so myself, I’m quite pleased with some of the activities I came up.

My favorite, however, was a task I called “What Does Research Look Like?” which I adapted from this assignment I found on Project Cora. The task itself is pretty straightforward, and my students had access to a wealth of materials in our design space – and those two factors combined resulted in some delightful AND insightful models of the research process. I was so delighted by what they came up with that I wanted to share a few examples. I probably wouldn’t have done this project had I actually been there for the first week of class, but it’s a project I’ll definitely do again!

Note: I asked students if they were okay with me sharing their work, and if so how/if they’d like to be identified

by Spring Yan and Ben Litvak-Hinenzon

With this model we wanted to explore how research has a messy starting point with information coming from all directions and all different forms. The overall structure we wanted to highlight was an hourglass shape because research has a refining process as well as an application process. After the mess of ribbon at the top we glued on different colored and shaped feathers to represent various sources. Then, through the middle of our hourglass we glued googly eyes to represent the filtration process and analysis portion. At the bottom are bunches of pom poms which symbolize the pieces of info we synthesized at the end. Between the feathers and the pom poms we attached a green string to represent to process and connection. 

by Jack and another classmate

Our model is meant to represent the different important steps in research: Initial idea; research through finding information and vetting sources; taking notes, and organizing important information; creating a final culmination of the information; and sharing the final product with others. We made each step a different level to signify the messiness of the process. Specifically how the process will take the researcher all over, through different sources, ideas, and questions. Though when looked at from the side all of these steps are in a line. This is to demonstrate a method to madness. The research process is crazy and unpredictable but in the end, it all comes together and creates a gain of knowledge.

by Sam Skoler, Josie Lawrence, and Rachel A.

When discussing what research looks like to us, we considered the often long journey that it can be. This long journey, is usually not linear, with many different ups and downs. When looking four sources your information may take you in new directions or even in loopdy-loops. When learning new things about your topic it may only inspire you to continue down the road. So, the thing that came to mind for us was a roller coaster. Our roller coaster has parts that are flat to represent starting points, it has a steep curve to prove a switch in directions, and it even has some swirly obstacles to show that you may encounter a few bumps down your road of research. Research to us can sometimes be scary or intimidating, but also very fun so we think our model is the perfect visual to how we feel about the process. 

by Toby Otting, Sydni Dretler, and Alexandra Herman

We view the research process as a series of increasingly specific gifts that you get to open to finally access the true knowledge of what you are searching for. To model this, we created a series of nesting boxes with bows on them which show how each source is narrowing in on what the essential question is. Inside of the final box, there is a brain that represents the final piece of knowledge. We thought of nesting dolls because during many of our research processes, we utilize information that we have gained from previous sources to seek out subsequent ones. If we had more time, we would have included things inside of the larger boxes or found a way to make it less linear.

3 thoughts on “What Does Research Look Like?

  1. May I ask which grade level this was and if you did any introduction to research before they did this project? I absolutely love this lesson – I just am thinking about which grade to do this with since I teach at a high school (grades 9-12). Thanks so much for sharing.

    • This was a mixed 11th/12th grade class, and it was the beginning of the class – so they’d done research before (and signed up for a class about research), but I didn’t really do any introductory work before this. Depending on your goals, I think something like this could work at either the beginning or the end of the research process.

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