Designing Research Projects that Kids (and Teachers) Love

Good research projects should not only teach important information literacy skills, but they should also
  • make school more meaningful and relevant for all students,
  • help students develop higher level thinking processes and exercise creativity,
  • reduce the temptation for students to plagiarize (and download papers), and
  • allow teachers to improve delivery of the content area curriculum.
This workshop reviews Bloom’s Taxonomy in light of designing research projects, offers strategies for teachers to determine the best places in the curriculum to integrate resource-based projects, and suggests ways technology can be a motivating factor in information processing. The workshop allows time for participants to practice revising traditional research projects and create and use some authentic assessment tools. (Updated and links last checked June 2012.)

Written comments about this workshop:
  • Being a firm believer in research projects, I am often asked to mentor others in the area, and also in regards to student motivation and individual program differentiation. This should help impact students’ learning in a positive way and I thank you for that.
  • Hi, I wanted to tell you everyone loved your presentations. It was a great day. Thanks.
  • I just found out that the 10th graders at my children’s school are doing almost all the exact things your school did in their memories project except for the production of a web page. My secretary came to work and said “my son is just so interested in social studies, this teacher is really great.” She is sending her son to school with your web address for the project and maybe they can take it one step further. I can’t think of a better way to put a teaching method to the test than to present it to a bunch of 15/16 year old boys. If it gets them motivated, it must be good.
  • Really just wanted to take the opportunity to tell you how much I enjoyed your presentation at FETC. I have found a kindred spirit and have told many, many teachers that if they wanted kids to do a report” on something, why don’t they just have them Xerox the encyclopedia page and turn it in. I agree that it is sSOOOO important that they DO something with the information.
  • …you made me mighty, and I thank you!

GoogleDoc form for rubric
Assignments That Matter Data Collection survey
Projects and possibilities
History lesson checklist
Challenges and solutions

• Common Craft Primary and Secondary Sources
Duncan and Lockhart, I-Search, You Search, We All Learn to Research. Neal-Schuman, 2000. (Elementary level)
• Habits of Mind website <>
Johnson, Doug. Designing Research Projects Students (and Teachers) Love, Multimedia Schools
Johnson, Doug Concerns about Creativity, Education World
• Johnson (Mary), Primary Sources in the Library: A Collaboration Guide for Library Media Specialists. Linworth, 2003
• Kohn, Punished by Rewards. Houghton-Mifflin, 1993.
• Csikszentmihalyi, Flow. Harper, 1990.
• Macrorie. The I-Search Paper. Ken Heinemann Educational Books, 1988. (Secondary level)
• Norman, Things That Make Us Smart. Addison-Wesley, 1993.

Why extrinsic motivation doesn’t work (Kohn, Punished by Rewards)
  • Rewards punish
  • Rewards rupture relationships
  • Rewards ignore reasons
  • Rewards discourage risk-taking
  • Extrinsic motivation can discourage desired behaviors

Why intrinsic motivation is extremely important
  • To create life-long learning
  • To stem negative behaviors and improve classroom climate (60%)
  • To make students and teachers partners in the learning process

Informal Learning vs
Joint or group activity
Goal well-motivated from users’ point of view
Activity is captivating “fun”
No interruptions
Frequent “flow”
Choice of topic, time and place
Activity can be done throughout life
School Learning (Donald Norman)
Goal not well-motivated from users’ point of view
Fun is not relevant
Constant interruptions
No “flow”
Fixed topics
Activities are not done outside of school

The 10 Developmental Task of Adolescents - G. Robert Carlson, Books and the Teen-age Reader
  1. Independence from parents
  2. New relationships with peers: new groups, groups have new importance
  3. Interest in opposite sex
  4. Finding a role model
  5. Coming to terms with one's body
  6. Coming to terms with one's sexuality
  7. Achieving a sense of status - being best or expert
  8. Developing a personal set of values
  9. Gaining work experience
  10. Making a vocational choice


Learning Verbs According to Bloom
  • Remembering - Recognizing, listing, describing, identifying, retrieving, naming, locating, finding
  • Understanding - Interpreting, summarizing, inferring, paraphrasing, classifying, comparing, explaining, exemplifying
  • Applying - Implementing, carrying out, using, executing
  • Analyzing - Comparing, organizing, deconstructing, attributing, outlining, finding, structuring, integrating
  • Evaluating - Checking, hypothesizing, critiquing, experimenting, judging, testing, detecting, monitoring
  • Creating - designing, constructing, planning, producing, inventing, devising, making

Bloom's Digital Taxomony (Andrew Churches)

A Research Question Rubric: Not all research questions are created equal.

Level One: My research is about a broad topic. I can complete the assignment by using a general reference source such as an encyclopedia. I have no personal questions about the topic.
Elementary example: My research is about an animal.
Secondary example: My research is about the economy of a region.

Level Two: My research answers a question that helps me narrow the focus of my search. This question may mean that I need to go to various sources to gather enough information to get a reliable answer. The conclusion of the research will ask me to give a supported answer to the question.
Elementary example: What methods has my animal developed to help it survive?
Secondary example: What role has manufacturing played in a region’s economic development?

Level Three: My research answers a question of personal relevance. To answer this question I may need to consult not just secondary sources such as magazines, newspapers, books or the Internet, but use primary sources of information such as original surveys, interviews, or source documents.
Elementary example: What animal would be best for my family to adopt as a pet?
Secondary example: How can one best prepare for a career in manufacturing in my area?

Level Four: My research answers a personal question about the topic, and contains information that may be of use to decision-makers as they make policy or distribute funds. The result of my research is a well supported conclusion that contains a call for action on the part of an organization or government body. There will be a plan to distribute this information.
Elementary example: How can our school help stop the growth in unwanted and abandoned animals in our community?
Secondary example: How might high schools change their curricula to meet the needs of students wanting a career in manufacturing in my region?

Johnson’s Multiple Creative Abilities
  • Writing/Presenting/Storytelling
  • Numeric problem-solving
  • Graphic artistic (drawing, painting, sculpting, photography, designing)
  • Athletic/movement (Sports, dance)
  • Musically artistic
  • Humor
  • Team-building
  • Problem-solving
  • Inventing
  • Leading
  • Organizing
  • Motivating/inspiring?